The Royals' world is right again: Big Game James dominates Rays

James Shields goes seven innings against the Rays -- baseball's hottest team that was coming off a sweep of the Tigers -- giving up just three hits while striking out 10 to help the Royals blank Tampa Bay 6-0.

James Shields was able to bust out of a recent slump against his former team in Tampa Bay. 

Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

You can't be much bigger than Big Game James on Monday night.

With his team needing an ace-like performance from him, Shields came through with a dominating effort against his former team, leading the Royals to a 6-0 win over Tampa Bay.

This, of course, came after an almost two-month stretch of mediocrity from Shields. At least for a night, Shields removed some of the lingering doubts about him and all the questions concerning the causes of his slump.

Shields kept his fastball down and threw strikes early in the count, and that helped set up a newfound slider he has added to his repertoire. All that made his out pitch -- his trademark changeup -- even more effective.

Shields went seven innings against the Rays -- baseball's hottest team and fresh off a sweep of the Tigers -- and gave up just three hits while striking out 10.

"I thought he was great," manager Ned Yost said of Shields on the FOX Sports Kansas City postgame show. "He was back to being James Shields.

"You could tell right from the first inning he was sharp."

Yost said he could not explain why Shields suddenly snapped out of his funk Monday.

"I think he just went through a little slump," Yost said. "And like a hitter going 4 for 4, he busted out of it tonight."

The Royals moved within 3 1/2 games of the Tigers as a big four-game set with Detroit starting Thursday looms ahead.

3 UP

-- Gordon returns with a bang. The mental-rest day off Sunday seemed to help Alex Gordon on Monday. He delivered an RBI single in the third that plated the Royals' first run. Then he led off the eighth inning with an absolute bomb -- a blast that likely went about 450 feet. Unfortunately, it hooked just foul. Undaunted, Gordon hit the next pitch off the right-field wall for a double and wound up scoring the Royals' third run -- a big run at the time. Gordon also singled in another run in the ninth.

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"We didn't really do anything off (Jake Odorizzi)," Gordon told FSKC's Joel Goldberg. "But James just matched him until we kind of blew it out at the end."

-- Omar knows situations. Omar Infante continues to show why he is probably the Royals' best situational hitter. In the third with runners on second and third and one out and the infield back, Infante knew he needed only a grounder to plate the Royals' second run. He did so by rolling out to the shortstop. Then after Gordon's leadoff double in the eighth, Infante tried to move Gordon to third by going to the right side. He was rewarded when he blooped a double down the right-field line that scored Gordon. Great job.

-- Big Sal sets the tone. Catcher Sal Perez demonstrated why he was an easy choice to start the All-Star Game for the injured Matt Weiters. In the first inning, Ben Zobrist was on first with a single with one out. But then Shields struck out Matt Joyce, and Perez, from his knees, threw out Zobrist trying to steal second. It was the second time this road trip that Perez has thrown out a runner from his knees. Whoa.

3 DOWN

-- Raul's bat speed. The Royals are hoping (crossing their fingers) to get some production out of 42-year-old Raul Ibanez, and he did get three hits in his first two games with the team. But Ibanez hasn't had a hit since his homer in Minnesota, and his bat speed looked painfully slow again Monday night. With the bases loaded in the second inning and one out and Odorizzi in trouble, Ibanez bailed him out by popping out to second base. Ibanez then struck out in his next two at-bats, swinging at pitches way out of the zone.

-- Out of the zone. To be fair, the Royals swung at a ton of pitches out of the zone or they might have knocked Odorizzi from the game early. Billy Butler struck out in one at-bat in which only two pitches actually reached home plate. Gordon fanned on a ball two feet outside, as did Eric Hosmer.

-- Nothing. Seriously, there's nothing else to complain about. The Royals could have fallen into a three-game losing streak against the red-hot Rays, but they stopped the bleeding from the Cleveland series. And taking the first game of the series takes a lot of pressure off the Royals. Now, go take the series.

You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at jeffreyflanagan6@gmail.com.