No one refers to James Shields as "Big Game James'' with a straight face anymore.
The righthander's career postseason numbers entering these playoffs didn't honor the nickname, and what's happened since then certainly hasn't helped.
Still, after a rough Game 1 of the World Series, Shields will get another shot in Game 5 against Madison Bumgarner, whose reputation at this time of year is pristine.
"Obviously, the last couple starts is not the way I wanted to end up,'' said Shields, 3-5 with a 5.74 ERA in 10 career postseason starts, including 1-1 with a 7.11 ERA in four starts this postseason. "But sometimes those things happen and, unfortunately, it's right now.''
Shields, a free agent after this season -- the Yankees have loved the righthander in the past and could be interested -- allowed five runs and seven hits in three innings in the Royals' 7-1 loss in Game 1. It was yet another disappointing start for Shields during this postseason, though manager Ned Yost quickly doused speculation after that game that anyone but Shields will start Game 5.
"I've seen him pitch for 65 starts or so,'' Yost said before Game 4 Saturday night in explaining why he didn't hesitate to name Shields. "I know what type of pitcher he is.''
What he has been, playoff disappointments aside, is one of the sport's most durable and consistent arms. The 32-year-old went 14-8 with a 3.21 ERA this season, throwing 227 innings. It marked the eighth straight season in which Shields, 114-90 with a 3.72 ERA in his career, has pitched at least 200 innings. He's thrown 2491/3, 2272/3, 2282/3 and 227 innings the last four seasons, the last two with the Royals.
"We talked about Alex Gordon going 0-for-15; did I lose confidence in Alex because he was 0-for-15? Absolutely not,'' Yost said of his leftfielder. "Stepped up and got a big hit for us [in Game 3 Friday night as the Royals took a 2-1 lead in the World Series]. It's the same thing with James Shields. I know his intensity. I know his work ethic. I know his competitiveness. I know that as much as a lot of you guys think that these guys are lights-out perfect every time they go out there, they're not. They're human beings. They make adjustments and they have good games and they have bad games.''
Shields chalked up at least part of the bad Game 1 performance to having a little too much adrenaline going.
"It's just kind of one of those things as a baseball player you've got to really hone in,'' he said. "I've been on this stage before, and I know exactly what to feel like when I'm out there, and I think this time around I'm not going to be as amped up and just try to keep my emotions in check.''
That has rarely been an issue at this time of year for Bumgarner, the man who beat Shields in Game 1.
The 25-year-old lefthander is 6-3 with a 2.54 ERA in 11 career postseason starts, including 3-1 with an almost ridiculous 1.40 ERA in five starts this postseason.
Depending on what happened Saturday night, Bumgarner either will try to keep the Giants alive in Game 5 or give them a three-games-to-two advantage going back to Kansas City.
"There is no panic,'' Bumgarner said. "I mean, there is obviously a sense of urgency, but there is no panic. A lot of guys have been in a lot worse position than we are right now and were able to come through with some wins and on top. We've got a lot of guys that know what it takes.''
Bumgarner first and foremost.