Today's game was an opportunity for James Shields to live up to his moniker, "Big Game James", with a start against the Yankees, whom the Rays are in a battle for one of the two wild card spots. The struggling Yankees (although they haven't really looked as bad as many think) put the young Ivan Nova on the mound, who had a respectable 11-7 record prior to today's game, but had a little over a 5.0 ERA, meaning he could be hit hard, which was good news for the Rays. With the momentum of last night's multi-faceted win, the Rays were looking to capitalize and get within two games of the Yankees.
Fortunately for Ivan Nova (but unfortunately for the Rays), his ERA proved to be a non-factor, as he only gave up a couple of runs on four hits in six quality innings of work. What really hurt the Rays in regards to Nova's pitching is the fact that he was locating his pitches incredibly well. This, in turn, meant an abundance of strikeouts (eight, to be exact), most of them coming off the top of the order surprisingly: Desmond Jennings got the hat trick (3 K's), Zobrist and Longoria each had one, and then BJ Upton had two, which isn't that much of a shocker. The only blemishes on Nova's night were Longoria's solo homer, and the one baserunner he left on base before getting pulled, which would later score courtesy of a Luke Scott two-run single.
The same cannot be said of James Shields, who's outing tonight did not help him live up to his nickname, and was characteristic of his up-and-down season. Shields gave up back-to-back home runs in the second inning, coming off the bats of the powerful Curtis Granderson (two-run homer) and the platoon man Eduardo Nunez, putting the Rays in an immediate 3-0 hole. Later in the game, Derek Jeter singled home a run off of a Shields pitch, giving the Yankees a commanding 4-0 lead, creating an even bigger/deeper hole for the Rays to climb out of. After Longoria's solo shot in the sixth, Luke Scott finally came through with a two-run single, cutting the deficit to just two runs. After Nova was pulled, the Yankees bullpen was lights-out, not allowing another run to score, while the Rays bullpen gave up an additional insurance run off an A-Rod single in the eighth inning.
Losing against good pitching is understandable, but a reliable clutch hitter has yet to emerge (not even Evan Longoria has proved to be a consistent, clutch player; game 162 last year was the only true clutch moment he's ever had), hence the reason why the Rays left six men on base, as opposed to just four for the Yankees. With BJ Upton likely leaving Tampa after this season, the Rays will miss his relatively decent power production (as well as speed/defense in Center), hurting the team even more going forward. Take a look at ESPN's percentages and you'll see just how much this loss to New York hurt the Rays' playoff chances. Now more than ever, a bona fide hero needs to emerge from the Rays lineup, and time is of the essence.
Notable stats from today's game:
E. Longoria: 1-4, Solo HR, RBI
L. Scott: 1-1, PH Single, 2 RBI