Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE
I remember this. Seen it before: 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012. The Rays are in a race and in a skid. More talented pitchers have struggled, but up comes the old man (only 30), the heart of the rotation, with his changeup and his moxie. Big Game James, Juego G.
Joe Maddon and company needed him to be big, and tonight, against the deepest lineup in baseball in their bandbox of a stadium, he was. Shields Pitched seven strong innings of one run ball. He allowed five batters to reach base (three hits, two walks) and struck out eight. He threw all six pitches early and often, with his no longer ridiculously underrated but still ridiculous changeup the best of the bunch with 28 appearances, 21 strikes, and 7 swinging strikes. The only blemish on the night was a fourth inning encounter with Ian Kinsler. Shields fell behind 3-0, but refused to give in, making two good pitches on the corners to bring the count full. Next though, he presented Kinsler with a fast meatball, which Kinsler deposited in the left field seats.
Unfortunately, I've seen the other side of this game before, too. Seven times this year, plenty of times in the past. The Rays offense and Yu Darvish made Kinsler's home run stand up.
Gory, unpleasant details below the jump.
Darvish was very good today. In his seven innings, he put eight men on base (six hits, 2 walks) and struck out 10. He also throws six distinct pitches, at least, but unlike Shields, who relies on his one great pitch to finish batters off, Darvish can get whiffs with all of them (although he does lean on his fastball more than Shields, as he should). Overall tonight, Darvish got Rays batters to whiff nearly 20% of the time. I think a comparison of their Brooks Baseball movement charts from this game is pretty interesting.
Here is Shields:
And here is Darvish:
These charts don't include velocity, so they don't tell the whole story, but they're still a nice comparison. The first chart shows a pitcher with one great pitch that has tons of run and drop, and enough variety in his other pitches that he can be smart and keep hitters off balance. This is the type of pitcher you're delighted to have on your team. The second chart shows six completely distinct clusters, with wildly divergent movement nowhere near each other, and most of them intriguing in their own right. This is the type of pitcher you pay $50 million for the right to talk to.
More notes on the game:
- In the bottom of the third inning, Shields walked David Murphy and then picked him off on his second throw over to first. I was listening to the Rangers announcers at the time, and after Shields’s first attempt, their announcers starting oohing and aahing over his quick move. The second attempt was even quicker, and caught Murphy just a bit too far. A win for Shields, but also a win for the prescience meter on the Texas broadcast.
- In the top of the fourth inning, the Rays had probably their best chance of the night. They had two men on with one out, and Carlos Pena at the plate. Darvish threw a 90 mph fastball right absolutely down the middle. The Carlos Pena of yesteryear would have crushed that mistake. Ours swung through it. Later on in that at bat, he swung over a low breaking ball to strike out. If Carlos Pena isn't in a rut and pressing, that's a pitch he spits on. After Pena was retired, Ryan Roberts reached with an infield hit to load the bases, but Jose Lobaton grounded into a 3-6-1 double play to end the threat.
- A B.J. Upton at bat in the top of the fifth inning best showcased Darvish's domination of the Rays. With the count 1-1, Darvish got Upton to chase on a breaking ball down and away that Upton had no chance of reaching. He followed it up with a fastball away that Upton managed to hold back on for a ball. The next pitch was a splitter/changeup that seemed like it might be middle in. You could see Upton's eye's light up, thinking Darvish had finally come inside and made his mistake. He hadn't. The pitch was well below the zone, and much farther below Upton's bat.
- The sad thing, is that Darvish might have struck out more than the 10 he was credited with. There were a number of borderline ball/strike calls in two strike counts that went The Rays Way.
- I will give Shields props for his performance in the sixth. With two men out and Elvis Andrus on second base, the Rays intentionally walked Adrian Beltre to bring up Nelson Cruz and his 21 home runs. Shields promptly got himself into a 3-0 count, but refused to be intimidated. He threw a slider, probably the pitch Cruz was least expecting, right down the middle, and Cruz fouled it off. He followed it up with a great slider on the bottom outside corner that produced a weak grounder back to his glove to end the inning.
- Matt Joyce exited the game in the second inning with a left forearm strain, that he says he felt on a check swing. There's probably more news as to the severity of the injury at this point, but I don't have it.
- When Darvish exited after his seven strong innings, Mike Adams came on. He did his job, and was followed by Joe Nathan. As good as the Rays 'pen has been this season, The rangers, with Adams, Nathan, and Alexi Ogando, have been just about as good. I don't hate the Rangers. That's an emotion reserved for in-conference rivals. But I am starting to fear them. Alex Cobb will take on Matt Harrison tomorrow, and then we will leave Texas. Win or lose tomorrow, it's time to leave.