ST PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 05: : Pitcher James Shields #33 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches against the Texas Rangers during the game at Tropicana Field on September 5, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
James Shields can't be stopped. This was his 11th complete game of the season, the most by a pitcher in over ten years. Heck, since the 1994 strike, only three pitchers have thrown more than 11 complete games in one season: Curt Schilling (15, 1998), Pedro Martinez (13, 1997), and Randy Johnson (12, 1999). Shields is having a historic season, and it's been an absolute joy to watch.
As I've been in and out all day, we're going to do this bullet point style:
- The Rays jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, courtesy of an Evan Longoria home run. This was Longo's 25th homer of the season in only 470 plate appearances, meaning he's on a 35-homer pace for a full season. Of course, since he missed time earlier this year due to injuries, he won't get that many home runs, but he's still making quite a push.
- In the fourth inning, the Rays were able to tack on a couple more insurance runs. Scott Feldman walked the bases loaded, and then Casey Kotchman ripped a groundball up the middle for a single, driving in two. John Jaso followed the single by grounding into a double play, ending the inning, but the Rays still managed to squeeze out a run thanks to a bit of hustle from Sean Rodriguez.
Jaso's grounder went right to first base, so it was natural for Mitch Moreland to step on first for the force and then throw to second to get the easy tag out. But Rodriguez was hustling (kinda) down from third and managed to score before the second out was made. It's not like Rodriguez was all out sprinting and dove headfirst into home pate, but still, he could easily have cruised down the line and not taken advantage of the opportunity. While the double play stunk, scoring once more took a bit of sting out of it.
- Shields just barely made this complete game, coming in at 124 pitches. I find it ridiculous that this was the first time this year his complete game has been in jeopardy due to his pitch count. Most pitchers need to throw around 120+ pitches if they're going to finish a game, but Shields has been economical to the tee.
- And so the debate ranges: James Shields or Ben Zobrist for the Rays' MVP? Honestly, you can't go wrong picking either player. Both of them have been two of the Rays' top players this season, and the Rays wouldn't be where they are right now without both of them. Ben Zobrist has been the Rays' best position player, and James Shields has been their best starting pitcher.
Where would the Rays' offense be without Zobrist? And how would the Rays' rotation stack up without Shields? It's getting tougher and tougher for me to go with Zobrist over Shields, but I'm sticking with him; the Rays' offense would be considerably weaker without Zobrist, and their middle infield would be a veritable black hole. But you can make defensible arguments for both players, so I certainly can't fault anyone for thinking it's Shields.