Thought processes and conversations started under the tilted cap of Tropicana Field. Someday everyone will know the Rays play in St. Petersburg, Florida, not TAMPA, or the fictitious city of TAMPA BAY.
Shields Needs to Reset the Tone
I sat there staring at my big screen for over twenty minutes after Saturday afternoon’s contest between the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays. What I saw on that screen reminded me more of a pre-2007 Rays squad. That was the kind of team that got dismantled 17-11 in their games, not this 2010 edition of the Rays. It had the eerie “been here before” vibe of an older version of a Rays contest where the offense had a stride going, but for some god awful reason, the pitching and defense just fell by the wayside producing moment after horrific moment until you just feel numb inside watching the screen.
It was a scene I thought we had finally grown beyond. A action and reaction that was filed away forever, never to be shown the light of day again. I truly thought we had seen the last of the pitching implosion in regards to the Rays staff. It was really difficult to watch the mental and physical disembowelment of Rays starter James Shield’s heart and soul during that debacle. We saw was Rays starter James Shield’s going from “Big Game” to “No Game” in a matter of hours. We were witnesses to the total effect of game day implosion of a pitcher we all used to count on for anything and everything….including ending unexpected losing streaks.
What we saw on that clean and new Astroturf was what happens when a Coaching staff lets a pitcher try to get out of a jam, or two and instead just further takes himself into the darker places and internal elements by missing their location, plus having to turn their back too often to watch balls disappear out of the ballpark. We all personally witnessed a pitcher’s own version of Hades on Earth. During the course of the game we all visualized the blood draining from Shield’s face, and finally exit the mound looking batter, beaten and bewildered beyond even our own twisted beliefs.
I do not know how Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey slept Saturday night. It is one of your responsibilities as a mentor and Coach to try and protect the confidence of the players under your command. To help divert the doubt and dark moments by protecting the pitcher’s delicate psyche, not sit there leaning on the rail popping sunflower seeds into your mouth discussing what comes next. You do not let a your main guy’s confidence meter go to almost empty point because sometimes a pitcher enters that dark place and never fully returns to form after that outing…..ever.
Games like this can change careers. It can let a bad image or even event permeate for five days with Shield’s either shaking it off and rebounding effectively, or it can further fester into his inner sanctum of confidence and rattle him to the core. One of the biggest weapons in a Major League Baseball pitcher’s arsenal is his sense of bravado. That swagger and aura of invulnerability is even more of a powerful thing than a well place Change-Up on the corner of the plate. Pitchers’ live and die on their confidence and their image as the keepers of the game. They set the tone, they provide the flow of the game.
If any of that is interrupted or corrupted, it can take a pitcher down a long and winding road of doubting his own stuff. A tendency to second guess any fingers popped down by his catcher. Then ultimately, he could lose himself within the game instead of commanding the game and leading his team. A pitcher’s state of confidence is a fragile thing. Even the biggest ego maniacs on the mound can be rattled and changed by an outing like Shield’s suffered on Saturday. This might be a really huge test for Hickey and his pitching philosophies over the next five days.
Either Shield’s will come back onto the mound rejuvenated and ready to pitch again with vigor and vitality, or he will try and foreshadow a bold outer shell with hints of hesitation in his delivery to the plate. One can provide a winning edge for the Rays, the other can take both himself and his team back into that dark place the Rays do not need to venture to again in 2010. Pitcher’s egos are a fragile creature. They need to be nurtured and grown for them to fully develop and provide a confident and strong performance.
Shield’s needs to take the mound for his next outing and show early dominance to effectively recover and push this past performance down into the dark again. He needs to set the tone, provide a winning edge for his teammates to rally around and he has to show that Shield’s swagger again as he strolls from the mound. Game shots of Shield’s after he left the mound on Saturday showed him dazed and confused. People around him were trying to give him positive points, but Shields was already in that dark zone.
Shields needs to climb back out of the darkened pit that embodies his last pitching performance and rise to the occasion again and lead this team. He needs to be the positive force, the striving piece of the puzzle that will lead by example and provide that winning edge again for the Rays. This has to happen. This has to materialize and provide a positive catalyst to regain and return to normal. Either that, or we will have other problems besides just Shields to worry about in the not so distant future. Set the tone James, set the tone.
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