KANSAS CITY -- For the entire first half of inning of the first World Series game at Kauffman Stadium in 29 years, the iconic center field scoreboard wasn't showing George Brett, or Frank White, or Eric Hosmer, or even seatmates Sung Woo Lee and Paul Rudd. It was showing a man named Trevor Vance. Vance is the head groundskeeper for the Royals -- "We want this grass to go to bed dry at night. It's like you don't want to put a baby to bed with wet diapers," he says -- but on the big board, he was representing Nuts & Bolts True Value hardware store, "with 10 locations to serve you in Kansas and Missouri." You were encouraged, in the biggest lettering on the board, bigger than the names of the Giants hitters, to follow @nutsandboltshw.
One of the many charms of Kauffman Stadium and its cheery Midwestern fans is that they did not change themselves much for the World Series. The same silly pregame scoreboard games -- find that ball! It's under one of the hats! But which one?! -- the relentless ubiquity of Sluggerrr , the Fist Pump Cam, the oddly specific local advertisers (Belfonte ice cream, an ominous-sounding website called MidwestComfortExperts.com). Kauffman didn't don any fancy shoes and top hat for the Series. Basically, the pomp and circumstance was pretty much trotting out a tiny marching band and Bob Dole. More than that would have been downright fussy.
Thus, when the crowd roared during James Shields' first pitch, a deafening roar nearly 30 years in the making, the scoreboard simply showed the lineups, a photo of Giants leadoff hitter Gregor Blanco … and this picture of Trevor.
For the next 20 minutes, for the next 32 pitches from Shields, for the next five Giants hits, for the next three Giants runs, Trevor and his turf tips stood there, oblivious. The roar quickly died down, first into nervous murmurs, then to open gasps, then to curious silence. Many of the Royals fans paid nearly $1,000 for the opportunity to watch this once-in-a-lifetime game. And they may have spent the most vital 20 minutes looking at Trevor's grinning face, watching the Giants numbers go up and up and up. It was the longest half inning of the evening, and the advertising didn't even work: @nutsandboltshw had 42 followers when the game started, and it still has 42 four hours later.
This is of course the danger of paying that much money for any baseball game, particularly when you're facing an ace the quality of Madison Bumgarner: There's a real possibility that you just emptied Little Timmy's college fund for the game to end in the first inning. You could end up all tuckered out by the sixth.
The Royals fans kept trying to rally after the Giants jumped out to their 3-0 lead (and then 5-0 lead, and then 7-0 lead), and all told, they were more successful at it than their team was. (Which, considering they paid to be here, makes some sense.) But Bumgarner, the National League Championship Series MVP, was even better tonight than he was in that series, giving up only two hits in 6 2/3 innings and retiring 12 batters in a row before Salvador Perez ran into a seventh-inning fastball. Bumgarner was, not for the first time this postseason, the best player on the field, and spotting him three runs before he even took his jacket off doomed the Royals.
Which brings us to James Shields. Much was made tonight of his "Big Game James" nickname -- which he got because he loved James Worthy growing up , and, yes, because it rhymes -- but seriously, after tonight, no one's ever going to call him that again unless they're being snide. Shields had no command and reduced stuff tonight, and he probably should have given up more runs in that first inning than he did. (An overly aggressive Tim Flannery sent Buster Posey to be thrown out at the plate, giving Shields an out he didn't deserve.) For all the insistence that Shields is the Royals' "ace," any Royals fan can tell you he hasn't been right for a few weeks now, and it came to a head tonight. The final line on Shields was seven hits and five runs in three innings, raising his 2014 postseason ERA to 7.11. (And 5.74 his whole career, by the way.) Coming into the evening, he was considered the Royals' most stable rotation piece. Now you wonder if he's going to lose his next start to Danny Duffy, who cleaned up Shields' disaster start and might have kept them in the game, had they not been facing Madison Bumgarner.
Of course, the way things went tonight, even planning for a Game 4 seems like an assumption. A series like this turns quick, out of nowhere, and all that excitement that built to a crescendo right before first pitch -- that 11-game postseason win streak! That sense that the Royals had eaten the glowing Mario star and were invincible! -- turned to scared mush before you knew what was happening. Now, the Royals are staring down a potential 2-0 barrel and a very real fear, if they lose Wednesday night, of this series not returning to Kansas City at all.
This is sort of the nightmare scenario of paying $1,000 for a ticket, isn't it? All that anticipation, all that celebration, all that I must remember that I was here sort of folds in upon itself when it turns out to be a game you desperately want to put out of your mind as soon as humanly possible. (I want to forget that I was here.) The eruption after Perez's seventh-inning homer spoke incredibly well of the Kauffman faithful, but also was indicative of just how starved for something positive to happen they were. If you had spent that much money for a ticket, you'd cheer for the public address announcer giving out the attendance. At one point, in the top of the eighth inning, left fielder Alex Gordon slid to hold Brandon Crawford to a single, and there was a spontaneous celebration, a full-throated appreciation of hustle and skill and, again, the rare event tonight that didn't involve the Royals being punched in the face. You want to credit them for sticking around when all was lost, and all was lost for so long, so early. But when you spend that much -- emotional capital as much, if not more, than financial capital -- you only leave before the final out if the place is engulfed in flames.
It is just one game, and there is a lot of series left, all that, yes yes. But this was the game Kansas City has been looking forward to for so long, with such intensity. This was supposed to be magical. This was the culmination. And not only was it a total flop, it was total flop after about 20 minutes. Nobody got their money's worth tonight. Not the fans, not the Royals, not even poor Nuts & Bolts Hardware. If you got lost in Trevor Vance's dreamy smile for even just a second in that first inning, it was over. You missed the whole thing. Royals fans were undaunted and loyal to the absolute last pitch. But I bet tomorrow night's tickets are cheaper.