Stop me if you've heard this before: An opposing pitcher starts the game with no feel or command of his pitches. The Rays hitters can't capitalize early and then the pitcher settles down and cruises for the next few innings.
What about this one: the day after the Rays offense explodes out of nowhere, they shrink back into--Wait, you want me to stop? You've heard this before. OK. No need for a recap then.
James Shields and Chris Tillman are not that similar of pitchers, but this afternoon they did their darnedest to emulate each other. Both starters looked identical through the first four innings: They had great movement on most pitches and caused some pretty gnarly swing-and-misses. They also issued several walks, a couple of the four pitch variety. When both pitchers missed today, it wasn't a pitch that was thisclose, it was a pitch that was this far.
Shields manuevered his momentary lapses in command by hunkering down and getting a ton of K's. He struck out ten for the second game in a row, but unfortunately in this game, he had to pitch the fifth inning.
With one out in the fifth, Nick Markakis hit a soft grounder through the middle for a single. Shields followed this up by plunking J.J. Hardy before facing Jim Thome. Shields got Thome down 0-2 on some nice curveballs, but then didn't throw another ball in the zone, and lost the patient slugger to a walk. Shields would get the next hitter, Adam Jones 0-2 before giving up a single between third and short that scored two. Desmond Jennings' throw home was woefully inadequate to catch Hardy.
Shields looked like he might be able to get out of the inning with no further damage when he went up 0-2 on Matt Weiters. But, just like against Thome, Shields lost the zone and walked him. Chris Davis would clear the reloaded bases with a double to left-center and that would be that. If you're keeping score at home: that's a five-run fifth inning for Shields, and three straight 0-2 counts that resulted in walk, single, walk.
The offense didn't do much against Chris Tillman. The three double plays (one of the strike-em-out-throw-em-out variety) didn't help much. They finally got on the board in the seventh after a Ryan Roberts walk and a Carlos Pena ground-rule-double to left (which was basically a Chris Davis gift). Sam Fuld got some good wood on the ball and drove both runners home on a double to left-center. That would chase Tillman. Fuld would get to third with one out, but Desmond Jennings couldn't execute the ol' safety squeeze and then popped out in the infield, and B.J. Upton couldn't GTMI with two outs either.
Rays keep the road trip alive in L.A. when they take on the Angles tomorrow night @ 10:05 PM. Alex Cobb takes on Dan Haren. I'm really looking forward to these upcoming late games. I've had some trouble sleeping lately, and I think watching the Rays offense just might do the trick.