The 87-year-old scout approached James Shields and extended a piece of paper. Art Stewart, a member of the Royals’ Hall of Fame and a beloved talent evaluator, sought an autograph on his pitching chart of Shields’ dynamic performance in a 5-1 victory over the Rockies.
“This,” Stewart told Shields, “is going in the archives.”
Shields gripped a pen and signed his name. It was a memorable evening for both men. To Stewart, it was a testament to the efficiency and effectiveness of the team’s best pitcher. To Shields, the night allowed him to enjoy a milestone, the 1,500th strikeout of his nine-year career.
The moment occurred in the sixth inning, as Shields was in the process of striking out the side. He had just pumped a 94-mph fastball past Colorado star Troy Tulowitzki. Catcher Salvador Perez signaled for Shields to return the baseball, and Kauffman Stadium began to rise.
Shields merely looked confused, face contorted, arms outstretched.
High above center field, the scoreboard announced his achievement. At last Perez instructed him to turn around. Shields tipped his head back and laughed. He stepped off the mound and doffed his cap.
“That was a pretty special moment,” Shields said. “Once I finally realized it.”
Then he went back to mowing down baseball’s best offense. Shields (5-3, 2.54 ERA) spun seven innings of one-run baseball. He struck out eight in all.
He also halted a streak that displayed the ferocity of his opponent: The Rockies had ripped an extra-base hit in each of their previous 42 games this season. They managed just five singles against Shields.
Lorenzo Cain and Perez homered to power the offense, while Alcides Escobar drove in two runs of his own. The Royals, 19-19, have now boomed four homers in their last two games, as they attempt to climb out of the major-league basement in that category.
“It’s a big park,” Cain said. “But we’ve got to find a way to get over that fence, somehow.”
The afternoon began with unrest. General manager Dayton Moore spoke with a sizable crowd of reporters to explain why the team decided not to demote struggling third baseman Mike Moustakas. Moore issued a vote of confidence for Moustakas, and stressed the importance of his defense.
Through the season’s first six weeks, the lineup persists as a model of inconsistency. The victory Tuesday pushed the Royals’ record to 18-2 when they score at least four runs. The mark was a point of emphasis for Moore.
“We’ve got to start winning games 2-1, and 3-1, and 3-0,” Moore said. “The defense is going to be a major part of that when start winning games where we don’t score four or more runs.”
Moore picked an interesting matchup to make that declaration. The best offense in baseball strolled into Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday afternoon.
On Sunday morning in Seattle, Yost peered at some scouting notes on the recent performance of the Rockies.
“I wonder what our advance report looks like,” he said. “When I look at Colorado’s, it says ‘Hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, cold, cold, hot, hot.’ What do you think ours looks like? ‘Cold, cold, lukewarm, cold?’ ”
He still sounded impressed two days later.
The Rockies lead the majors in runs, home runs and various other categories. They entered Tuesday’s game with an .855 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Their next closest competitor? The Angels, with a .760 OPS. The numbers, Yost said, were “a little bit intimidation.”
Yet the Royals were up for the challenge.
After Alcides Escobar roped an RBI single in the second, Tulowitzki came around and tied the game in the third.
The Royals provided an immediate answer. Cain jumped on a 91-mph fastball from left-hander Franklin Morales for a two-run homer. It was his first home run since July 4, 2013. The next inning, Perez crushed a curveball for a solo homer.
The lead was sizable enough for Shields to settle down. Colorado taxed him during the first few innings. He began to trust his fastball as the game went on, despite the power of the opposing hitters.
The ovation from the fans touched Shields. This is only his second year in the organization. It could be his last. But he soaked in the moment.
“It’s kind of crazy to think about,” Shields said. “Fifteen hundred strikeouts is quite a bit of strikeouts. Hopefully, I can get many more.”