Early hook disappoints Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher James Shields

“I’m a competitor; I want to be out there all nine innings,” James Shields says after his Game 2 start. “I’ve never had an outing like that. But when the playoffs come around, anything can happen.”

DIRK SHADD | Times

“I’m a competitor; I want to be out there all nine innings,” James Shields says after his Game 2 start. “I’ve never had an outing like that. But when the playoffs come around, anything can happen.”

ST. PETERSBURG — James Shields entered Thursday's pivotal Game 2 start saying how much he wanted the ball against the Rangers.

The Rays talked about how much they liked having Shields pitch in this situation, considering his postseason experience, array of pitches and success at home and against the Rangers.

And the right-hander pitched well, allowing two runs over the first four innings.

"He was dominant," catcher Kelly Shoppach said.

"I actually thought James was pretty sharp," echoed manager Joe Maddon.

Which is why Shields used words such as "surprised" and "disappointed" to describe his emotions when Maddon pulled him after 41/3 innings (and 68 pitches) and trailing 2-0, with two on and one out in the fifth. Maddon called in Chad Qualls, hoping his sinkerball could induce an inning-ending double play.

Shields, visibly upset and frustrated in the dugout afterward, wasn't ready to leave the game.

"I'm a competitor; I want to be out there all nine innings," Shields said. "But I do know Joe does play his matchups, he does that, and Qualls has done a great job getting ground balls when we needed them."

Qualls fell behind Michael Young 3-and-2 — in part because of a controversial call by first-base umpire Jerry Meals on a check swing — before giving up a three-run homer. Two of those runs were charged to Shields, whose four earned runs allowed weren't indicative of his outing.

The 68 pitches he threw were the fewest of any of his career regular-season starts — with the exception of the 2008 brawl in Boston and his one-inning tuneup entering the 2008 playoffs.

"I've never had an outing like that," Shields said. "But when the playoffs come around, anything can happen."

What surprised Shields even more was that he had retired the two Texas hitters due up when he was pulled — Young and Josh Hamilton — in their first two at-bats. Hamilton was 1-for-12 in his career against Shields.

A few Rays were caught off guard with Shields' quick hook.

"I was a little surprised," infielder Ben Zobrist said. "Because we've let him pitch a little bit longer than that moment in the game. But I try not to question Joe. He does what he does for a reason."

Maddon said he made a similar switch in Saturday's 4-0 win in Kansas City, pulling spot starter Andy Sonnanstine after 21/3 innings with the bases loaded and one out for Qualls, who got the inning-ending double play.

That didn't mean Shoppach was ready for Shields to leave.

"I didn't want that to happen," Shoppach said. "I thought he should have been out there (Thursday), throwing the ball, and I wanted it to be in his hands. … Had the game not unfolded like it had, he'd still be pitching.

"But we have guys that come in certain situations, and they're going to pitch. … They're going to come in a little bit earlier, no matter who is on the mound."

Early hook disappoints Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher James Shields 10/07/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 8, 2010 8:44am]

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