"That's a nice advantage," manager Ned Yost said. "We had to play that Wild Card Game. It was an elimination game. We had to go with our best guy and kind of piece it together from there.
"But to have him available in Game 3, when we looked at it, we thought it was the best-case scenario for us. If we could be even, if we split here, you go back and take a chance to take the lead at home with your No. 1 guy. We like the way that it worked out."
Shields also likes the way it works out, because he gets to pitch in front of the home crowd again. He did so on Tuesday in the Wild Card Game and it proved to be a memorable experience beyond the Royals pulling out a thrilling 9-8 victory in 11 innings.
"Pitching the Wild Card Game really helped, pitching in front of a sold-out crowd -- they were so electric," Shields said after throwing his bullpen session on Friday before Game 2 at Angel Stadium. "People have been waiting a long time for this. There was so much energy, it made it so much fun. Every pitch, the crowd was really into it. That's the most electric crowd I have ever seen."
It should be that way again on Sunday night, partly because Shields will be on the mound. Although he is not an electric pitcher who throws 100 mph, like many of his teammates -- his best pitch is his changeup -- he is the Royals' ace, acquired two years ago in a franchise-changing seven-player deal with the Rays.
At the time of the deal, the Royals were loaded with young talent but still trying to learn how to win. They had averaged 96 losses per season over the previous nine years.
Getting Shields was, in some ways, a symbolic move, showing that the Royals were ready to win. But it also had significant tangible benefits beyond a pitcher contributing 27 wins over the past two years. Team officials say that Shields has given them everything they hoped for and more in regard competitiveness, leadership and being a mentor to their young pitchers.
"He is a top-of-the-rotation guy who works hard, a professional who brings it every day," pitching coach Dave Eiland said. "[He shows] our young guys how veterans go about their job. He brings it every day, even when he's not pitching. He never takes a pitch off. He is pitching to win on every single pitch."
One starter can't change everything, though, even one who has thrown more innings than any other Major League pitcher since the beginning of 2007. But the Royals' rotation, in the two years before Shields joined the team, was 92-134 with a 4.91 ERA that was the second highest in the AL. Over the past two seasons, with the additions of Shields and Jeremy Guthrie, the rotation is 114-107 with a 3.74 ERA that is the fourth best in the league in that stretch.
"He's been tremendous," reliever Greg Holland said. "He takes that starting five, kind of collectively takes them, like, 'Hey, we want to be the backbone of this team. We want to throw 200 innings apiece.' We want to push each other, learn from each other when we're not in the game, we're in the dugout. I think he also leads by example, taking the ball every five days and giving his heart and soul. In so many ways, he's meant a lot to this team."
He is also the only Royals starter who had pitched in the postseason prior to this season. Sunday will be the eighth playoff start of his career, although prior to the Wild Card Game, he had been absent since 2011.
"I think what it has done is reinforced why you play this game," Shields said. "When you were a little kid, this is what you dream of, this is why you play baseball, for a chance to win the World Series. This is what it is all about, why you play the game."
Sunday night should be special, and there seems to be many people depending on him. The Royals certainly like the way it is setting up nicely.
"I don't feel it's that way, because with this team there is a different guy winning the game for us every night," Shields said. "If I can just do my part, that's my job. So far it has worked out well that way; I just hope we can keep it going."