Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Royals had put together an impressive winning run to climb back into playoff contention, and were trotting out the ace of their staff against the Minnesota Twins.
Their AL Central rivals were countering with a soft-throwing left-hander from Saskatchewan who bounced around in independent league baseball before getting one last shot to make it big.
This is where baseball sometimes makes little sense.
James Shields was battered by the Twins over six shaky innings Tuesday night while Andrew Albers shut down the hot-hitting Royals in his big league debut, leading Minnesota to a 7-0 win over Kansas City and defying just about anybody who dared set odds on the game.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to him,” the Royals’ Billy Butler said of Albers, who baffled the entire Kansas City lineup with a fastball in the 80s. “It’s his debut. He made his pitches. It was just a bad night. You knew one of these was coming eventually.”
The Royals had won 12 of their past 13 before running into Albers, but he allowed just four hits over 8 1-3 innings in handing Kansas City its sixth shutout loss this season.
“He pitched a great game,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He did it mostly with his fastball, but again the flip-side he pitched ahead in the count, kept the ball down, mixed in a slider and a few change-ups — not many, seven or eight. Most the work he did was with his fastball.”
The Twins took most of the pressure off Albers with a big night at the plate. Brian Dozier homered and drove in three runs, and Justin Morneau and Chris Colabello also went deep.
All that damage came against Shields (6-8), who even balked in a run during his worst start in nearly two years.
The former All-Star gave up three runs in the first inning and never settled down the rest of the evening, laboring through six innings on an uncomfortably humid night.
“Sometimes this can happen,” Shields said, “but I’ve got to do a better job.”
The Twins hammered Shields right from the start. Dozier’s homer was the first leadoff shot for Minnesota since Denard Span went deep against the Phillies on June 12, 2012.
Jamey Carroll promptly worked a walk and Morneau, who came into the game hitting .371 against Shields, added a two-run shot later in the first to stake the Twins to a 3-0 lead.
Shields continued to struggle with his command in the second inning, walking Chris Herrmann to lead it off and then plunking Clete Thomas. Doug Bernier laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move both runners up, and Herrmann scored on Dozier’s sacrifice fly.
Colabello hit his third homer of the year in the fourth, and then plunged Shields into more trouble with a leadoff single in the sixth.
Herrmann added a single to put runners on the corners, and a balk by Shields on a pickoff move to third base brought in another run.
Dozier drove in his third run of the game with a single to make it 7-0.
It was the first time Shields allowed at least seven runs since Aug. 21, 2011, when he was still with Tampa Bay. The three homers he allowed were the most since June 2 of the same year.
“He just had trouble getting the ball down,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “Command was the issue most of the night for him. After the second inning it got a little better.”
Albers couldn’t have gotten a whole lot better.
The first big leaguer from Saskatchewan since 1991, when Terry Puhl retired, Albers showed promise when he was drafted by the Padres in 2008.
But he needed Tommy John surgery the next year and was released before showing what he could do with a rebuilt elbow, finally ending up with the Quebec Capitales of the Can-Am League when he was healthy enough to pitch again.
Albers failed to impress in a pair of big league tryouts in Arizona in 2011, but he was willing to drive at his own expense to Florida for another try with the Twins.
His only other option to head home to North Battleford and get on with life, Albers showed just enough to earn himself a job.
“For a guy who’s not a prototypical prospect, for them to stick with me the way they have, it’s pretty special,” said Albers, who was 11-5 with a 2.86 ERA at Rochester before getting called upon to replace fellow Canadian Scott Diamond in the Twins’ rotation.
“You dream about this,” he said, “but you never know if it’ll actually happen.”
Notes: The Royals will recall LHP Danny Duffy from Triple-A Omaha to start Wednesday night against the Twins’ Samuel Deduno. It will be Duffy’s first big league start since May 2012 after having Tommy John surgery. ... Twins 3B Trevor Plouffe was held out of the lineup as a precaution after tumbling head-first into the dugout to catch a foul ball Monday. ... Twins SS Pedro Florimon (sore left wrist) took BP and could start Wednesday. ... Twins OF Darin Mastrioianni (left ankle stress reaction) left to begin a minor league rehab assignment with Triple-A Rochester.