Bats Come Alive, Pitching Is Dominant, The Rays Barely Escape With 8-4 Win

Shields struck out eight and walked none in six strong innings of work. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Maybe it’s just because of recent playoff history, but Ballpark in Arlington is one of the few parks that just never seems comfortable. One becomes accustomed to a cool and constant 72 degrees with no wind and reasonably distant outfield walls. It’s nice. A fly ball is just a fly ball. A home run is earned.

In the top of the first, Evan Longoria hit a fly ball to center that just kept carrying. I felt good because we were up three, but I also said to myself, "Oh no, here we go again." In the bottom of the inning, Ian Kinsler hit a fly ball to right field, and I could not tell one bit if it was out or not. I don’t think Ben Zobrist could either. All night, balls kept carrying more than they should. Luckily for my nerves, we had Shields on the mound tonight.

James Shields threw 112 (66% for strikes) pitches over six innings. He struck out eight and walked none. Against this great fastball hitting team, Shields only threw 22 fastballs (no whiffs). He threw 35 changeups getting a robust 10 strikes. He rounded out his game with 27 curves, 19 sliders, and 9 cutters. Shields is relying less on his fastball than he ever has before, and it’s a pleasure to watch.

  • After Longoria hit his home run in the first, Zobrist walked, Keppinger poked a ground ball through the hole, and Upton lined to left, scoring Zobrist. Matt Harrison was on the ropes. And then Sean Rodriguez tried to bunt. Harrison was able to field it and throw out Keppinger at third. Sean, why the bunt? You are S-Rod, feared masher of lefties, in the best offensive park not on a mountain, against the most explosive team in the league? Please don’t do that again.
  • One at bat later, Gimenez hit a high fly ball to left, and B.J. Upton tried to tag up and advance to third, but he was thrown out easily. There’s a reason you don’t usually tag up on fly balls to left. The Rays had Harrison on the ropes and they let him off the hook.
  • In the bottom of the first, Shields was off to a rocky start. He had Kinsler at third and Andrus at first, and his control was off (all his changeups were in the dirt). Sometimes pitchers throw to first in a situation like this just to slow the game down and collect themselves. Shields threw to first and picked of Andrus.
  • The Rangers weren’t using the Ted Williams shift against Carlos Pena. Instead, they had Kinsler play pretty normally and Andrus stand right on second base, with the third baseman not too far from his normal spot. I don’t know if this is because Pena has been bunting for hits against the shift, or if the Rangers are just conservative, but if it’s the former, I’m glad to see Pena being able to affect how he’s played. That’ll pay dividends later.
  • For the second game in a row, Chris Gimenez had a catcher’s interference called against him. This one was definitely the right call.
  • In the top of the third inning, Gimenez hit a flyball of the right field wall, and Upton tried to score. He got home in time, but Napoli was able to block the plate well enough to keep him from getting his lead foot down. I hate this play. BJ pulled his leg back to try to get around the block rather than turn his studs up and destroy Napoli’s ankle. Runners should not have to make this choice. Blocking the plate has no place in baseball.
  • There’s a certain pattern to the end of a Shields outing. He starts working more slowly, and he leans really heavily on his curve. I never quite know if he’ll make it out of the inning, but he really wants to. Often this moment comes in the ninth, but today it came in the sixth. Against this powerhouse offense, I’ll take it.
  • J.P. Howell came on to work the seventh. He got Josh Hamilton on a 1-2 curve at the top of the zone. It was a dominant sequence against a great batter.
  • Howell then hit Adrian Beltre and worked a full count to Michael Young, getting him to bounce to short for a double play. Did anyone else think that Beltre wasn’t really running, and didn’t even try to break up the double play?
  • Howell was brought back on for the eighth, but after a bloop single, and a hit against the shift on a good pitch Maddon brought Wade Davis on to pitch to studly righty, Mike Napoli. Note: Niemann did not pitch today. I guess we know how Maddon voted in the caddie poll.
  • After Davis struck out Napoli, Longoria dropped a popup to load the bases. Davis threw a wild pitch but Gimenez was quick enough to chase it down and throw Nelson Cruz out at the plate when he tried to score from third.
  • Jake McGee pitched a beautiful ninth, blowing a fastball past Hamilton and striking out Young on a changeup. Go watch the inning again if you want to be happy.
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