From this shot, it looks like Shields was dropping deuces on the Royals tonight, but, in fact, he was dropping change-ups.
Let's welcome back Complete Game James, everyone. "Juego G" led the way for the Rays tonight, tossing his league leading eighth CG against the befuddled Royals of Kansas City in a game that lasted just under two hours. This was his first CG since an eight inning loss to the Yankees on July 10th, and his first CG-Win since June 24th at Houston. (I was there. It was fun.)
Shields kept the Royals at bay tonight with his trusty change-up (surprise, surprise). His line on the night was might fine: 9IP, 0R, 6H, 3BB, 8K. Of his 117 pitches, Shields pulled the string 41 times and generating nine of his ten swinging strikes (21.95%); the other swing-and-miss came on a curve.
Look at all those change-ups down below the zone. It's not rocket science, but when Shields gets the change-piece down, he's outrageously successful. Shields made every Royal look foolish with the K except for Eric Hosmer and Alcides Escobar, but made up for it by K'ing Jeff Francoeur twice--the second ended the game.
Despite the pretty line, Shields got into a few jams early in the game. He allowed two base runners in the third, fourth, and fifth innings, but escaped trouble thanks to some smooth fielding double plays and a strike-em-out-throw-em-out. All the six hits against him were singles, and the three walks were on balls very close to the zone--a zone that at times seemed a bit too tight, but that might just be me paying too much mind to Fox Trax.
Shields' biggest blemish on the night was that he allowed his first stolen base to Eric Hosmer in the fourth. Yes, the first stolen base against him all year. This happened after Melky Cabrera was gunned down at second on the Royals first attempt of that inning, but the Royals were unafraid of James' pickoff prowess and Hosmer swiped one from under his feet. What does ten pickoffs mean when one guy on the season steals second off you? Not very much. Shields should probably just quit.
Offensively, the name of the night was Evan Longoria. The Pretty Boy had all four of the Rays RBI on the night driving in Desmond Jennings and Johnny Damon with a single in the first and cranking a two-run homer to left center in the sixth. After his homer, in the top of the seventh, Longo botched a play at third on a Johnny Giavotella grounder, but recovered and made the play at first thanks to Casey Kotchman's patented "pull the foot off the bag and throw it around before the umpire realizes he was safe" move. When that play doesn't work, Kotch looks foolish, but when it does, he saves Longo from an error. I mean, how many times do you see that? A guy hits a homer then almost makes an error in the next inning, but is saved by a quick-thinking foot-pull-off by the first baseman? All the time, right?
Desmond Jennings and Johnny Damon pulled off a double steal in the first before Longo drove them home. It was a bit surprising considering there were no outs and the always prevalent "never make the first or third out at third base" rule, but it worked, so, yeah. Jennings would later get picked off by Jeff Francis to make amends for even challenging that rule.
Tomorrow's game comes at you @ 7:10 PM and features Felipe Paulino (1-4) vs. Wade Davis (8-7). In the immortal words of Sweet Lou (Brown): "Ok, guys. We've won two games in a row. If we win [tomorrow], it's called a winning streak. IT HAS HAPPENED BEFORE"