Rays Roundtable: Favorite memories of James Shields

J. Meric

The DRaysBay staff collectively reminisces about their favorite memories of James Shields.

Mike: Since Shields has pitched for the (Devil) Rays since 2006, I have not witnessed all of the special and memorable moments in his career. With the amount of complete games, high strikeout performances, and near no hitters in his resume, choosing a specific game is difficult. But if I had to choose, I think my favorite Shields' memory was his complete game in his third start of the 2011 season. Even though he was always regarded as an innings eater, Shields did not finish a game in the 2009 or 2010 seasons. You could see him sniffing a complete game in the air, and that intensity, passion, and competitiveness was never more evident than in that final inning. Even with his pitch count mounting, he reared back and fired some rare (for him) mid-90s fastballs to Konerko.

That moment is special for me because it reminds me of all the reasons that we have loved Big Game James over the years. The heart, passion, endurance, quality, mastery of Shields all were displayed in that one game. The frustration hanging over his head from the 2010 season seemed to fuel his determination to complete the game. I think, in time, the performance of his replacements will ease the pain of losing the quality of his innings. But no matter how well the pitchers do, they can never replace the drive that gave Shields the nickname "Big Game James."

Daniel: Two years ago, I got tickets for my Dad, siblings and I to see the Rays at the Marlins for a Fathers' Day gift. As fate would have it, this would also be the infamous Vuvuzela giveaway of 2010.

Allow me to set the stage:

The Marlins were close to taking a lead in the ninth inning, but the crowd was blowing their obnoxious, buzzing horns so loud that Miami manager Fredi Gonzalez was unable to communicate properly with the home plate umpire. When Gonzalez made a double switch that lifted Hanley Ramirez for Brian Barden, who was now hitting in the pitcher's slot, the umpire marked Barden as hitting third and failed to make the pitching switch. Barden then made his plate appearance and walked to get on base, but the umpire then consulted his card and called Barden out for batting out of order. The inning ended tied 5-5.

In extras, the Rays and Joe Maddon had already used five relievers, with only Andy Sonnanstine remaining fresh in the bullpen. So who should take the mound but James Shields, in his only career relief appearance. Shields kept the game scoreless with two ground outs, one walk, and a fielder's choice. The performance wasn't necessarily shiny, but James Shields was outstanding. The energy was furious in Dolphin Stadium - or whatever it was called that year - and the crowd would not relent. The Vuvuzelas had to be the most distracting environment Shields had ever played in, but he put the team on his back and held the game scoreless. The Rays would respond in turn, tabbing the Marlins for four runs in the 11th inning, leading Andy Sonnanstine to shut the door as what remained of the Miami crowd trickled out. The 4 hour, 36 minute game was simply unforgettable, and louder than the 15,000 Vuvuzelas in my mind is Fuego G dropping the hammer on and angry Marlins offense.

Scott: I've looked at the game logs, and as far as I can tell, I've seen Shields in person twice. One was a pretty poor start in 2008, but the other was one of his best efforts in his 2011 season. On a Sunday in June, the Rays were looking to sweep the Marlins and add to their continuing miseries in June. After allowing an unearned run in the first, Shields cruised to his second straight complete game in a 2-1 win, striking out 10, walking none and only allowing four hits. Chris Volstad gave the Rays chance after chance to put the game away, but the game remained tight. His efficiency was impressive, carrying the team to a win on a day the bats weren't really helping him.

Although there is no Wade Davis roundtable, I was at his outstanding ML debut in 2009 where he looked like a future star. He struck out nine batters in seven innings, including the first six outs in his career. A solo home run to Aubrey Huff was the only run he allowed that day, but the reliever roulette of 2009 blew another game late. Three relievers in the 9th inning failed to record an out, and it culminated in a Brandon Inge grand slam against Russ Springer.

Preet: Throughout 2009 I started discovering Sabermetrics and came to the conclusion that Shields was not only really underrated but also that he would be a lot better after regressing the next year. I remember at the end of 2009 telling everyone how great I thought Shields was (W-L record isn't fair to him and even ERA isn't!) and how he'd be even greater in 2010. Then 2010 happened... I don't think any of you need me to summarize that year for you. I would watch each and every one of Shields's starts hoping he would improve with him just falling farther and farther off the wagon. I stuck by him though all through the next offseason too, arguing against each and every one of the people clamoring for him to be traded or cut, and then 2011 came. I'm not embarrassed to admit the vindication he provided and ridiculous new heights he met in 2011 as what I'll always remember about Shields.

As far as specific memories go, there's no question that the 2008 World Series Game 2 (the only World Series game we've won) takes the cake. My dad got amazing tickets right by the field at 3rd base side somehow, and my brother flew home from college (in philly) just for the game. It was unreal, and after the first game, we desperately needed a win. Shields wasn't even close to his best, but he weaved in and out of jams and managed to avoid damage pretty much completely, earning the win and, in my eyes, forever justifying the "Big Game James" moniker.

The three back to back complete games against Boston, Miami, and Houston in the summer of 2011 was also pretty insane. That was definitely Shields at his very best, a three game stretch where he only allowed one run and quite literally carried the stumbling team.

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