BALTIMORE — The nickname is a misnomer.

“Big Game James” Shields has won only three of his eight career playoff starts. He lost twice to the Red Sox in the 2008 AL Championship Series, although to be fair, he pitched well enough to win both games. His ERA in four postseasons: 4.96.

Shields was given the “Big Game” moniker years ago, before he was pitching in games big or small in the majors, because he grew up idolizing former Los Angeles Lakers power forward James Worthy. The fact that it stuck had more to do with being catchy than with his achievements on the mound.

That said, there isn’t any pitcher the Royals would rather have starting Game 1 of the ALCS tonight. And regardless of what happens here against the Baltimore Orioles — or throughout the rest of Kansas City’s thus-far magical postseason — Shields won’t be merely a free agent consolation prize for teams that are unable to land Jon Lester or Max Scherzer.

“He’s throwing Game 1. He threw the wild card game. He’s been the leader of this staff for two years,” Royals designated hitter Billy Butler said yesterday. “He’s a vital part of this club. We wouldn’t be here without him.”

No wonder executives from multiple teams are beginning to think Shields will get five-year offers once he reaches free agency next month. And if that’s the case, the 32-year-old right-hander won’t represent any safer of an investment for the Red Sox than Lester.

The pitching-needy Sox will undoubtedly try to lure Shields by hiking the average annual value of their best offer to at least $20 million in exchange for shortening the contract to no more than four years. But if that doesn’t work, and if the price for Shields will require principal owner John Henry to break with his …read more