What’s in a name? “Big Game” James did not come up big for Kansas City

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Last night’s game was not exactly riveting. The personal highlight for me was making an astute observation about pitcher’s names when Madison Bumgarner and Danny Duffy were on the mound. Other noted scribes helped add to that august discourse. It was the sort of thing that made me proud to be a member of the greater baseball community.

Of course the reason we had the time to tackle those weighty issues was because the game was more or less over moments after it began. The Giants jumped all over Royals starter James Shields, putting up three in the first and adding two more before Shields could even record an out in the fourth. That led to some more musing about names. Specifically, James Shields’ nickname, “Big Game James.”

Shields is said to have gotten that name in high school based on his admiration of the original “Big Game James,” James Worthy. Even so, one can assume that he came up big often in high school or else he wouldn’t have been drafted by the Rays. I don’t think most of us heard that name, however, until the 2008 World Series when he had a nice start against the Phillies in Game 2. Since then, he has been called that just about every time he’s been mentioned by national broadcasters as if it was the game his momma gave him.

Whatever the name’s source, it has stuck with him. And because it has stuck, Shields’ postseason struggles have led to no small amount of nickname mockery. Among the many, many variations I saw from fans last night were “Big Lame James” and “Three Frame James.” Of course there were more. Which is understandable when you realize just how poorly Shields has pitched in the postseason. By the time he was done last night he had an ERA of 7.11 this postseason, with opponents batting .346 against him.That is tied for the 3rd worst ever by a pitcher with four or more starts in a single postseason. Not a huge sample, obviously, but not a good sample either. Overall he now has an ERA of 5.74 in 53 and a third postseason innings.

This is not the stuff of a guy with the nickname “Big Game,” but far more importantly, this is not the stuff of a guy who is supposed to be the number one starter of a pennant winner and who is seeking a big multi-year deal on the free agent market. Shields is still a fine starter, but he would not be the first free agent pitcher to take a haircut in the market due to his perceived inability to get it done in big games. The Yankees and Red Sox need a pitcher, for example. Can you imagine what the fan and media reaction would be in those towns the first time Shields got beaten up in rivalry game?

At any rate, there has been some suggestion that Shields has shied away from the name “Big Game.” And there is certainly some defensiveness on his behalf in some corners of the media, even if the broadcasters can’t stop themselves from implying that Shields is, in fact, a big game pitcher. Indeed, after Shields left the game, Tom Verducci said, while interviewing Raul Ibanez, that “we’re certainly not used to seeing James Shields pitch like this in the postseason.” Except, no Tom, we most certainly are used to it by now. And while that undercuts a catchy nickname, it has undercut his team’s chances to win its first World Championship in 29 years even more.

Nationals’ Soto youngest ever to win NL batting crown

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — Juan Soto became the National League’s youngest batting champion, Trea Turner hit a grand slam and drove in seven runs, and the Washington Nationals closed out the season with a 15-5 victory over the New York Mets on Sunday.

Soto walked and singled before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the third inning, elevating his average to .351 and sealing the NL lead in the category during this pandemic-shortened 60-game season.

The 21-year-old Soto surpassed Brooklyn’s Pete Reiser for the youngest ever to take a batting crown. Reiser was 22 when he ended the 1941 season hitting a league-leading .343.

“For me, it doesn’t matter the age,” Soto said with a smile when informed of the feat’s historical significance. “If you deserve it, you deserve it.”

Soto held off Atlanta teammates Freddie Freeman (.341) and Marcell Ozuna (.338) and also finished 2020 with the major league-lead in on-base percentage (.490) and slugging percentage (.695).

Yan Gomes homered for Washington, which won seven of its last nine and closed the season on a three-game winning streak and caught the Mets in the NL East standings.

“These guys don’t quit,” Washington manager Dave Martinez said. “They play hard every day and you saw what they did the last nine games. I’m proud of them hanging in there.”

The Nationals finished 26-34 a year after winning their first World Series. The Nationals’ .433 winning percentage in the truncated season was the lowest for a defending champion since the 1998 Florida Marlins went 54-108 (.333).

New York slipped from 86-76 last season and third place in the NL East to 26-34 and tied for fourth in manager Luis Rojas’ first season. The Mets still held slim playoff hopes entering Saturday before dropping three in a row, and they would have secured a wild card had they won those games because of three-game slides by Philadelphia and San Francisco to end the season.

“We didn’t get it done,” Rojas said. “We needed to do it, and we didn’t do it. It was definitely all on us. It makes it a little bit more frustrating just seeing that part happened the way we wanted, but we didn’t execute what we needed to do.”

Pete Alonso homered twice for New York and finished with 16 after clubbing a rookie-record 53 last season. Guillermo Heredia added a solo shot for the Mets.

Washington right-hander Austin Voth (2-5) needed 36 pitches to escape the first but made it through five innings to close his season with back-to-back victories. Voth allowed four runs while striking out four.

The Nationals chased Mets starter Seth Lugo after 1 1/3 innings. Lugo (3-4) allowed six runs on five hits and two walks.

With Washington already leading 7-3, Turner busted the game open with a third-inning grand slam off reliever Steven Matz. It was Washington’s first grand slam of the season.

KENDRICK’S FUTURE

Washington and INF Howie Kendrick have a mutual option for 2021, and he has at least one prominent figure hopeful for his return.

“I’m holding onto his leg,” Martinez said. “He’s got a lot of discussions to have with his family and I told him we’ll stay in touch as we always do and we’ll see where he’s at.”

The 37-year-old Kendrick hit .275 with two homers and 14 RBIs in 25 games, and ended the season on the injured list with a left hamstring strain.

NATS AWARDS

Soto was named Washington’s player of the year and RHP Max Scherzer (5-4, 3.74 ERA) earned the team’s pitcher of the year award in voting by local media. LHP Sean Doolittle won his third consecutive Good Guy Award.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: New York placed RHP Erasmo Ramirez (right groin tightness) on the injured list. Ramirez was 0-0 with an 0.63 ERA in six games. The Mets recalled RHP Corey Oswalt.

Nationals: OF Victor Robles was hit by a pitch in the second inning and was lifted for a defensive replacement in the third.

UP NEXT

Mets: New York opens its 2021 spring training schedule on Feb. 27 against Miami in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Nationals: Washington takes on Houston on Feb. 27 in West Palm Beach, Florida, in its scheduled 2021 spring training debut.