On Friday night, the Royals did something that they had never done before.
So did Wade Davis.
In a season full of new experiences for an entire generation of Royals fans (and players), new things shouldn’t surprise anyone anymore.
James Shields (13-7) dominated the New York Yankees, leading Kansas City to its first-ever 1-0 victory at Yankee Stadium (new or old). He only had one run of support, and it didn’t matter. Breezing through 8 1/3 innings, he allowed only two Yankees to reach base until Derek Jeter blooped a one-out single in the ninth. Shields had only thrown 97 pitches at that point, leaving fans to wonder what Ned Yost would do.
Yost, who has been burned numerous times for leaving starting pitchers in too long, quickly went to the bullpen. He summoned Wade Davis – not Greg Holland – to record the final two outs of the game. Jeter’s pinch runner swiped second base. Davis didn’t flinch. He blew away Brett Gardner with a 98mph fastball for the second out, and then painted the outside corner perfectly to strike Carlos Beltran out looking to end the game.
It was his first career save. After the game, Davis said that he was summoned because Holland simply needed another day off.
Friday night was more than an impressive pitching performance. The Royals offense continued to struggle, plating just one run (which was unearned) against an on-target Michael Pineda. There was no room for error, and Shields rose to the challenge, blowing through the Yankees in arguably his guttiest outing as a Royal. He struck out six and walked none in his 8 1/3 dazzling frames.
Back in July, some fans wanted Shields traded. Others wanted him shut down, claiming he was injured. He was in the middle of one of the worst stretches of his career, and his team was rapidly falling out of contention.
In his last 12 starts, Shields has posted a 2.26 ERA over 83.2 innings. He has struck out 64 batters and walked just 12. As for the Royals, they’re 32-19 in that span, which began when their ace shut down his former team at Tropicana Field.
Interestingly, Friday was only the second time that he did not eclipse the 100-pitch mark since June 3. In 30 starts this year, Shields has thrown at least 100 pitches in all but five occasions. He also surpassed the 200 innings mark on the season for the eighth consecutive year.
The Royals, like the Yankees, were only able to manufacture three hits. Alcides Escobar reached on what was ruled an error in the third inning; the shortstop battled through an 11-pitch at bat, and finally chopped a sharp grounder to third base that went by Chase Headley. Escobar hustled to second base after Brett Gardner was late getting to the ball, and he would score on Nori Aoki’s single back up the middle. After that, Kansas City would put just one runner on the bases the rest of the way.
Pineda (3-4), who beat the Royals and Shields just two weeks ago, did his best to match his counterpart. He yielded the three hits, struck out four, and did not walk anyone over seven frames. Dellin Betances and David Robertson retired the six hitters they faced in the eighth and ninth innings.
When the final pitch was thrown at Yankee Stadium, the Detroit Tigers were trailing 6-0 to San Francisco. After three innings, severe thunderstorms prompted a lengthily rain delay, which was still going on after more than two hours. At the moment, Kansas City’s lead in the AL Central is 1.5 games, and their magic number is down to 22.
At 78-61, the Royals are a season-high 17 games over .500. After winning the first four games on its September calendar, Kansas City is now 30-11 since July 22.
Up next: Kansas City goes for the series tomorrow when Danny Duffy (8-11, 2.42 ERA) opposes Brandon McCarthy (8-14, 4.19). While it may appear as an on-paper pitching mismatch, it is worth nothing that McCarthy has posted an ERA of 2.80 since being traded to the Yankees in July.
The Royals have 23 games left. After Friday night’s nailbiter, Royals fans are left to wonder how tense playoff games must be. Hopefully, in four weeks, they’ll all know. And hopefully it’ll be pretty darn sweet.