Big Game James Shields does what an ace is supposed to do

“He was everything we needed him to be–incredible.”–Rays third baseman Evan Longoria on pitcher James Shields.

The Rays had lost four in a row and fallen a game under .500 when James Shields walked to the mound at Fenway Park on Monday morning. During the losing streak, they’d allowed 38 runs, their most in a four-game stretch since July 22-26, 2007. They’d been outscored 38-14 and gone six for 46 with runners in scoring position since scoring fourth in the ninth of Justin Verlander last week.

On a day when temperatures soared into the 90s, Shields did what an ace is supposed to do. He took control of the game and refused to let it go. Boston’s Daniel Bard was very, very good, allowing just one run, that on a bases-loaded walk to Longoria in the seventh inning. But that was one run too many on a day when Shields did what an ace is supposed to do.

When he  walked off the mound with a 1-0 lead, I figured he was done. He’d thrown 105 pitches, and in tough conditions, he’d done his job and then some. He returned for the ninth, got one out, and then finally departed after walking Dustin Pedroia. He has pitched at least eight innings in 16 of his last 33 starts. That’s more eight-plus inning appearances than 14 teams have in that stretch.

“We absolutely needed something like that,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon, who got his 500th victory.

(When James Shields got the Opening Day start for the Rays, he broke an MLB-record streak of 764 games in which they started a pitcher under the age of 30. However, they’ve now used a starter 30 or younger in 905 straight games. The last time the Rays threw a starter at least 31 years old was Mark Hendrickson, 32, on June 25, 2006. In addition, the Rays have used a starting pitcher they drafted for 175 consecutive games, a major league record.)

The Rays began Tuesday last in the American League with a 6.04 staff ERA. Some of that is a bad start by the bullpen, but the starters have only the ninth-best ERA at 4.13.

The Rays began this season widely regarded to have one of the two or three best rotations in baseball, a rotation good enough to take some pressure off an offense that likely will not be one of the best.

Shields is coming off a terrific season in which he set club records in innings (249.1), complete games (11) and shutouts (4). He finished third in the American League Cy Young Award balloting, and his 11 complete games were the most by an MLB pitcher since Randy Johnson threw 12 for the 1999 Diamondbacks. They were the most by an AL pitcher since Scott Erickson had 11 for the Orioles in 1998. He was the first AL pitcher with 11 complete games and four shutouts since Roger Clemens in 1992. He had more complete games than 26 major league teams.

1 Comment

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