With the postseason dream already gone, the Rays came into last night's game --the second-to-last of the season-- ready to play like a team that has nothing to lose. Seeing as how winning the last two games is a moot point for them, the players know they now have a chance to really have some fun, and enjoy playing the game without any pressure whatsoever. Yes, the heartache of being so close to the postseason is still there, but Joe Maddon and his players knew that there's no sense in dwelling on something that is dead and gone. With that, James Shields took the mound for what many think might be his last start in a Rays' uniform, going up against former Red Sox pitcher Miguel Gonzalez for the Orioles.
From the get-go, you could tell Shields was locked in and, as with any pitcher, when they're locked in, great and potentially historic things can happen. Through his first three innings, Shields struck out four Orioles' batters and did not surrender a hit. Then in the fourth, breakout slugger Chris Davis launched a moonshot to center (traveled 445 feet), but it was luckily only a solo homer. From then on out, it was Shields' show; his final masterpiece (potentially) as a member of the Rays, and it was a performance to remember.
Shields was relentless through the entire game, posting a complete game, and striking out a total of 15 Orioles hitters, a Rays' franchise record. Four of Shields' fifteen whiffs were called strike threes, as he owned the black part of the zone, and the Orioles hitters just watched the ball go by. To say his stuff was nasty might be a bit of an understatement: it was sheer dominance, and everyone in attendance knew that Big Game James had indeed lived up to his moniker.
Unfortunately for Shields, the Rays bats had absolutely no life in them, only managing to amass two hits off of a Orioles pitching staff which is well below-average. Evan Longoria and Chris Gimenez were the only Rays hitters that could get to O's starter Miguel Gonzalez, who struck out 7 in 6.1 innings of work. This is Gonzalez's Rookie year in the majors, and he is probably the only bright spot in an otherwise sub-par rotation for the Orioles. Granted, Baltimore's pitching staff is ranked in the middle of the pack this season (somewhere around 14 in most categories), but their Runs Scored/Runs Allowed ratio is a meager +10, as opposed to the Rays +117 and the Yankees +124 (Washington leads the majors with +137), which doesn't offer much promise for their success in the postseason.
With one game left, the Rays look to end the season on a positive note: a win does wonders for morale.
Notable stats from last night's game:
J. Shields: (L,15-10) CG, 2 H, ER, 15 SO
Rays news and notes: