Shields lives up to hype for Rays
Posted: Friday, October 24, 2008 5:53 pm
By: By MIKE FITZPATRICK, AP Baseball Writer
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — James Shields walked slowly off the mound and doffed his cap to a cheering crowd, looking a little surprised that he’d been taken out.
No sweat — rookie reliever David Price and the rest of the Tampa Bay Rays were ready to finish the job. Big Game James had already lived up to his nickname.
Shields stymied the slumping Philadelphia Phillies and Price got the final seven outs, pitching the plucky Rays to a 4-2 victory Thursday night that tied the World Series at 1-all.
“I didn’t feel too much pressure,” Shields said. “The guys in the clubhouse were real relaxed before the game.”
After dropping the opener to ace Cole Hamels and the Phillies, the young Rays rebounded from a rare home loss and earned their first World Series win with help from a squeeze play and a checked swing.
Tampa Bay never really got a huge hit, but neither did the Phillies as Jimmy Rollins and crew fell to 1-for-28 with runners in scoring position.
“That might be one of our sloppiest games all year,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “I’m concerned about us hitting with guys on base, because it looks like at times we might be trying a little too hard. But we can fix that.”
The series shifts to Philadelphia for Game 3 on Saturday night, though rain is in the forecast. ALCS MVP Matt Garza is scheduled to pitch for Tampa Bay against 45-year-old Jamie Moyer, making his World Series debut.
“We came in here knowing it’s going to be a tight series,” Rays outfielder B.J. Upton said. “Both clubs are a lot alike.”
Tampa Bay scored on Jason Bartlett’s safety squeeze and built another rally when Rocco Baldelli walked on a checked swing that seemed to confuse players and umpires alike.
Shields threw shutout ball into the sixth, outpitching Brett Myers and working out of trouble just as Hamels did for a 3-2 win Wednesday night.
So, how exactly did a pitcher with 32 major league wins come by that catchy monicker?
“It was kind of a joke at first,” Shields said. “I ended up pitching a couple of good games in the minor leagues and they say my whole organization is calling me ‘Big Game.’ They don’t call me by my first name anymore.”
The 23-year-old Price, called up in September after he was the top pick in last year’s draft, struck out slugger Ryan Howard with two on to end the seventh.
The hard-throwing lefty gave up a pinch-hit homer to Eric Bruntlett in the eighth, then stayed on to close it out against Philadelphia’s big boppers.
Carloz Ruiz led off the ninth with a double, and a pitch from Price appeared to graze Rollins’ jersey. But it was not called a hit batter, and a frustrated Rollins soon popped out.
Ruiz scored when third baseman Evan Longoria booted Jayson Werth’s grounder for an error, but Price fanned Chase Utley and got Howard on a game-ending grounder.
“I was nervous — very,” Price said. “I usually don’t even sweat out there and my hat looks like I went swimming with it.”
Tampa Bay is 5-3 at home in the postseason after going a major league-best 57-24 during the season.
Philadelphia’s lone hit with runners in scoring position was Shane Victorino’s infield single in the fourth, and that didn’t even produce a run.
“I don’t know if we’re pressing,” Victorino said. “Maybe it seems that way. We’re just not getting the job done. We came back, we had the tying run up. We needed to get one.”
Shields usually flourishes at home, where he was 9-2 with a 2.59 ERA during the season. All four of his postseason starts have come at Tropicana Field, including a win over the Chicago White Sox in Tampa Bay’s first playoff game and two tough losses to Boston in the ALCS.
“You feel pretty comfortable when he goes out there under those circumstances,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s kind of a misconception. We’re starting to play our first big games now, and he’s pitching the same now as when the big game was trying to prevent somebody else from getting to the playoffs.”
A 14-game winner during the season, Shields was pulled in the sixth after 104 pitches. Dan Wheeler retired Pedro Feliz on an inning-ending grounder with runners at the corners.
Back from two seasons derailed by injuries and mitochondrial disorder, a condition that slows muscle recovery and causes extreme fatigue, Baldelli was involved in a confusing call in the second that helped Tampa Bay make it 3-0.
He checked his swing on a full-count pitch and plate umpire Kerwin Danley immediately raised his right arm as if to call strike three. But then Danley pointed to first base for an appeal, and umpire Fieldin Culbreth signaled safe.
“It was his intention to go to first base for help on a half-swing that he had as ball four,” said Mike Port, Major League Baseball’s vice president for umpiring. “He just gave a confusing mechanic. But he had called it a ball, and it was ruled no half-swing anyway. So it was just that particular mechanic that caused confusion.”
Myers and several Phillies infielders were puzzled, along with Manuel, who took a few steps out of the dugout but didn’t argue long.
“I thought he called the guy out,” Manuel said.
With the bases loaded and two outs, Upton hit an RBI single to right. Werth made a strong throw to cut down Baldelli, who crashed into Ruiz but couldn’t dislodge the ball.
Before the next inning started, Baldelli rested on one knee in right field.
Demoted to the minors in July, Myers gave up two runs in the first after an error by Werth. Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria had RBI groundouts.
Notes: Philadelphia’s 0-for-19 skid with runners in scoring position was the second-longest drought to start a World Series since the 1966 Los Angeles Dodgers finished 0-for-22 against Baltimore, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.