The last time Dallas Braden pitched in a game he made a point to tell Alex Rodriguez that the mound was a starting pitcher's domain. Tonight, the mound belonged to James Shields.
Matt Garza and David Price have grabbed the early season headlines, and deservedly so, but the Rays' ace was at his best tonight. Many have complained about Shields 2010 start, but over the last 14 innings he has allowed just four runs while striking out 15 including a career-high tying 12 this evening. He has an even 9.0 strikeouts per nine (K/9) this season.
The night got off to a rough start as Shields allowed his seventh home run of the season. On the bright side, it was the sixth solo home run allowed so the damage was limited to just one run. After a Jason Bartlett error tied the game at two a piece in the fourth inning, Shields took over from there. Working off his magnificent change-up Shields induced 18 whiffs on the night, and three more foul tips. The 17.8% swinging strike percentage is simply amazing.
At some point in every Shields start he gets into a jam. More often than not, he escapes in true "Shieldsian" fashion. However, on occasion his emotions get the best of him and things go south in a hurry. I like to call this the "escape or explode" inning. Tonight, the fifth inning was "escape or explode" inning for Shields.
Shields allowed a single to Eric Patterson to start the inning. Adam Rosales, who along with Cliff Pennington can leave us alone now, followed with a double up the left field line. Carl Crawford fielded the ball and fired to Jason Bartlett. Bartlett threw a strike to John Jaso, nailing Patterson at the plate and making up for Bartlett's earlier run-costing error.
After a one out walk to the aforementioned Pennington, Shields would strike out the next two batters. That was the closest the A's would come to sniffing the lead. In the bottom of the inning, the Rays offense gave Shields some much needed run support as six Rays crossed home plate.
Carl Crawford and Ben Zobrist lead off the inning with walks and Evan Longoria followed with a run-scoring ground-rule double. Carlos Pena would single home two more runs giving the Rays a 5-2 lead. B.J. Upton and Willy Aybar would each single to load the bases with no outs setting up Maddon with his first, and only, major decision of the game.
With the lefty Braden out of the game, Gabe Kapler was due up. R.J.and I were discussing the possibility of a pinch-hit appearance for Reid Brignac as Aybar was at the plate. I felt that the Rays needed to deliver a knock-out blow and Brignac represented the best chance for that.
Maddon made the move to Brignac and Carlos Pena would score on a wild-pitch soon there. This pretty much negating the dramatic tone of the at-bat. Brignac would bring in a run of his own on a fielder's choice and John Jaso would bring home the final runner on a sac-fly putting the Rays up 8-2.
Speaking of Jaso, he did not have a hit, but drove in two runs and added another walk to his total. With 9 RBI, he is in line to get a massive Ryan Howard-esque contract in the future because he is clearly a top-notch run producer. Sarcasm aside, it is wonderful to get some production from the catcher position. Jaso now has six walks to one strikeout.
Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena would add two more runs in the sixth inning as the duo became the first pair of Rays to hit back-to-back home runs in 2010.
After Shields was finished making the A's offense look silly as they flailed at his devastating change-up, Andy Sonnanstine finished up the final two innings. Sonny allowed a few hits including a home run to Rosales, who proceeded to run around the bases (literally) for no reason.
It was only a two-game series, but a sweep is a sweep and 16-5 is 16-5. Once again, hat tip to James Shields for a great performance and looking forward to a similar one from Matt Garza tomorrow.