Rays Can’t close the deal for Shields
Oh, somedays it just doesn’t pay to be a Rays pitcher. Even if you are on the top of your game, it can fail with just a small mistake, or even a mis-guided play. Some people have been throwing Rays starter James Shields under the bus recently, but if you really look at his statisitcs, he has been pretty consistent all season.
It is just seems he has been the victim of the worst run support in the American League. Coming into today’s contest against the Royals, The Rays offense has only given Shields 2.59 run support in his 22 starts this season. The team has a 10-12 record when he starts a game, and Shields is so much better than his 6-8 record this season.
The guy has thrown 146.1 innings coming into today’s game, but had things fall apart on him defensively. He had everything going for him today and even after he strolled off the mound to a standing ovation from the home crowd, the only thought in his mind was on what could have happened. Yeah, what if Gabe Gross had done the same thing White Sox outfielder Dewayne Wise did for Mark Buehrle not so long ago.
What if? What if might dominate his mind for more than a short span. You see Rays Manager Joe Maddon wants his guys to think about a game for 30 minutes, then forget it and get ready for the next one. But I have a feeling this one is going to linger on Shield’s mind a little longer. Some people have the avant garde opinion that Gross should have done everything humanly possible to grasp that ball and save the moment. Even if it meant him leaving his feet and snagging that dying quail fly ball in front of him in the 8th inning.
Other people will view it as a defining moment catalyst that brought on the lax in the defensive unit for the next few plays that ultimately cost the Rays, and Shields a win. You have to see both side of that ball that dropped in front of Gross. If he dives and makes the play, he is on “ESPN’s Baseball Tonight”, and viewed as a sunky hero that went beyond common judment to make a difference in the game.
If he doesn’t ” go for it” or try and make the difference in the game, it will be viewed as a defensive decision based on the probabilites of disaster if he misses the ball and it rolls around in the outfield waiting for B J Upton coming over for it. You would then have Maddon be the first to not question the play. Some will call it a perfect defensive play by one of the best rightfielder in the AL, but others will find fault in it because it led to a loss.
But that single by catcher John Buck, who was hitting only .227 at the time was quickly releived by pinchrunner Ryan Freel. Then the wheels began to come off this wagon for Shields, and he could do nothing but watch it happen. Alex Gordon hit a squibbler in front of the plate and Rays catcher Dioner Navarro tried to take out the lead runner, but instead overthrew second base and Freel ended up standing on third base. Shields got Mitch Maier to a 3-2 count before finally producing a RBI single to centerfield.
Gone now was the shutout and the last three hitter had gotten good wood on the ball against Shields. But Mark Teahen pinch hit for Yuniesky Bentancourt and popped a simple out to Evan Longoria to take some of the pressure off Shields. He could breath a bit now knowing it was not over yet. Then the play that would define the Rays loss actually happened.
Maier was caught in a simple run down between first and second by Jason Bartlett and Carlos Pena and was shifting to and from second base when Gordon becan his trek to the plate. Bartlett was shifting his weight and was off balanced when he threw towards Navarro and home and could not get the ball on line and Gordon scored and Maier moved to second on the errant throw. It made the score 2-0 at that point and proved to be the difference in the ballgame.
In the previous three plays the Rays had committed two errors that deflated the enitre effort of Shields that day. It is not often that the Rays defense has a struggle, and it was not a pretty thing to see in person. But Maddon could see his starter beginning to unravel on the mound by emotion, not his pitching. So he went to the Bullpen and Shields was greeted by a huge chorus of support from the home crowd.
James Shield came off the field today after 7.1 innings of work and a total of 107 pitches. It is a pure gamble sometimes when a games gets that late and you are chasing a dream peformance. Shields did struggle a bit in the first inning, but he adjusted and kept the Royals off the board. But he did stride and slide and scramble to try and make some Rays history today. This was a fantastic effort by Shields and the only loss was to a Gatorade cooler that was stupid enough to be near him as he left the field.
But you can understand it. But you also felt for the guy. This game always seemed to be just out of his hands a bit from the first inning on, but the Rays also could not give him the run support again. It is sad that two of the Rays best pitchers, Shields and Matt Garza have had to pretty much shut people out to win games this season. Wake up offense! You are missing some awesome pitching performances.
For everything the defense has done for the Rays pitchers this season, this was the one that will hurt the most. Not only did it rob us of a special piece of Shield’s history, but it also rob us of a memory that will never be forgotten. Not of the no-hitter, but of the fact they would again come off the match and get a chance to survive this latest struggle.
But it did not happen. So, what would you have done?
Would you have thrown yourself to the turf and hope it was enough for the catch, or would you have played it safe? That will be the debate tomorrow. Myself, I might have gone for it all on that play. I might have don
e evrything humanly possible to give Shields a chance at immortality. But then again, I am a gambler and never take the odds into account.
It will not define the Rays season, or even put them in a bad situation right now, but the honest truth is every loss from now on will take 2 wins to erase it. As my favorite movie line from The Program goes, “It’s time to put the women and children to bed and got get dinner.” It is the time to win, the time to set sights for the top again, and defend your teammates to the end. Don’t you agree?