ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 01: James Shields #33 of the Tampa Bay Rays stands on the mound prior to being pulled in the sixth inning of Game Two of the American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on October 1, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
For the first three and a half innings of Game Two, everything was going swell. The Rays were ahead 3-0 thanks to a bases-loaded walk by Kelly Shoppach and a two-run home run from Matt Joyce, and James Shields was looking in complete command. Although it was still early, he had only allowed two baserunners so far in the game, and had struck out three batters. His changeup was mowing through the Rangers, and it didn't seem far-fetched to think that three runs might be enough to give the Rays the game.
But between innings, unbeknownst to the announcers and fans, James Shields was kidnapped by an irate Nolan Ryan and replaced with his evil twin: Jamie Yields. While Shields has been the ace of the Rays' staff all season long, Jamie Yields specializes in one thing and one thing only: giving up runs and handing over leads. And that's just what he did.
By the end of the bottom of the fourth inning -- an inning that featured three singles and two hit-by-pitches -- the Rays were down 5-3 and in danger of having to reclaim the lead against the Rangers' bullpen. Yields was helped along in the fourth by home plate umpire Kerwin Danley, who refused to call any strikes low in the zone and butchered a call that would have led to the Rays getting out of the inning earlier. But Yields also helped himself along, throwing a wild pitch at one point that allowed the runners to advance and get in a position to score. All in all, the Rangers were given five outs that inning, and they took full advantage.
The Rangers would later tack on two more runs in the sixth inning; Yields led off the inning by allowing two singles, Jake McGee allowed the runners to advance, and then Ian Kinsler smacked a double off Juan Cruz that drove in both runs. While the Rays made an attempt at a comeback, shrinking the Rangers' lead to only one run in the seventh inning on a three-run home run by Evan Longoria.
But alas, the Rays' offense couldn't muster a rally against Mike Adams and Neftali Feliz in the eighth or ninth innings. Mitch Moreland hit a final solo home run, and so the game ended: 8-6, Rangers. The series is now tied at one game apiece, and the Rays and Rangers come to the Trop for Games Three and Four.
More on Shields after the jump.
While it's easy to point to Shields' collapse in last year's playoffs and yell, "See?? See?? He's NOT a big game pitcher!!", I think that misses the point. Shields has been the Rays' most consistent, most dominant starter over the course of the season, but even he has had bad days on occasion. This start isn't even his worst of the season -- he allowed 10 runs in only four innings against Oakland back in July -- so it's worth remembering that these sort of starts happen to even the best pitchers. Sometimes, you just don't have it.
Also, it's not as though this is the first big start Shields has had this season; his every start has been important down the stretch, and he posted a 3.25 ERA in his final four starts of the season...all of which were either against the Yankees or Red Sox. According to the FanGraphs Clutch stat, Shields has performed the best in high-leverage situations of any starter on the Rays. So again, this start was not about Shields being a poor big game starter; it was simply about him temporarily losing his control for a portion of the game.
Like I said before the series started, the Rays will only get as far as their starting pitching takes them. Tonight, it let them down while their offense continued to churn. Surprising? Yeah. Worrisome? Not quite yet. The Rays have two home games with Price and Hellickson coming up, so they still have some odds working in their favor going forward.
- B.J. Upton led the Rays with three hits, but he also managed to get caught stealing third base in the fifth inning. He would have stood a chance at scoring if he hadn't run, so it makes you wonder how the game might have played out if the Rays had drawn closer at that point.