There are many cliches about "aces". One of the most common being they're who you look to when needing to stop a losing streak. I don't know if James Shields qualifies as an ace, but he certainly fit the bill for the Rays this afternoon.
Coming off four straight losses, three at Fenway, the Rays needed something good to come of the day. They had been outscored 31-11 in the first three games of the series. You shouldn't panic over a small sample, but, man, a win would feel good before the team heads to Toronto. Shields was fantastic in his 8 and 1/3 innings, allowing just four hits and striking out five. His cutter was especially good, throwing it 39 times with 26 being strikes. Brooksbaseball mistakenly defined it as a slider, but the pitch averaged 90mph, just below Shields' normal fastball velocity. The performance was especially good given Shields' poor career numbers in Fenway. In 10 career games coming into today he had allowed a slash line of .300/.356/.526. That makes two starts in a row where Shields has gone at least eight innings and give up two runs or less. He's looked as if he's determined to show that his 2011 season was for real, his Opening Day start not withstanding.
As well as Shields pitched, the game wasn't in hand until the final batter thanks to the offense's inability to get a key hit. They recorded seven hits and seven walks, which is usually more than enough to score a few. Instead, they were fortunate enough that Bobby Valentine left Daniel Bard in the game in the seventh inning to face Longoria with the bases loaded and two outs, having already walked six and thrown over 100 pitches. Longoria walked, bringing in the only run that would score all day. They had many other chances, though. Aside from the seventh they left a man in scoring position in the second, third, fourth, fifth and ninth innings. This team's success with situational hitting comes in streaks it seems. It has to get better soon because it can't get any worse.
What seems to be the talk of the game is the final out. After watching it live and looking at the Pitch f/x data Cody Ross and the Red Sox have some beef. Fernando Rodney didn't throw a single ball in the strike zone but was able to get the umpire to ring Ross up on strikes. They attacked him away, which is smart, and Jose Molina framed the pitches beautifully. The ability to frame would be balls into strike calls is something Molina is very adept at and a big reason the Rays signed him this off season.
In any case, the Rays won, evening their record to 5-5. It doesn't get easier tomorrow as they face Ricky Romero tomorrow in Toronto.