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James Shields' steady arm has set things right for Tampa Bay Rays

Pitching coach Jim Hickey praises James Shields after the win. “What he’s done has been ridiculous,” Hickey says of how Shields’ performance has pulled the Rays back into contention.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Pitching coach Jim Hickey praises James Shields after the win. “What he’s done has been ridiculous,” Hickey says of how Shields’ performance has pulled the Rays back into contention.

ST. PETERSBURG — There are memories still to come. That's what the defeat at Camden Yards provided, and that's what the victory at Tropicana Field ensured.

And yet, in many ways, this is exactly the way the season should be recalled:

With a grumpy James Shields handing the ball to manager Joe Maddon and walking off the field in another ninth inning with an ovation ringing in his ears.

This season belongs to Shields. No matter what happens in the days to come, no matter who might be the hero today or tomorrow, the fans of Tampa Bay are forever in his debt.

"We wouldn't be here having this conversation if it wasn't for him," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "He's been incredible. What he's done has been ridiculous."

Shields has been the rock in a season that has rarely been solid. He was the starter on the day the Rays ended an 0-6 beginning to their season. He was practically unbeatable when the wins started coming in droves in August. And he was one out from another complete game when the Rays finally caught the Red Sox on Sept. 26, 2011.

"Pretty fitting," reliever J.P. Howell said. "He's been our guy."

7:16 p.m. Robinson Cano hits a 1-1 pitch 422 feet over the centerfield wall to put New York up 1-0. Moments later, the score is announced on the air on Boston's WEEI with the Red Sox also leading the Orioles 1-0. "If ever you can convince yourself to cheer for the Yankees," Red Sox announcer Dave O'Brien said, "tonight's the night."

Things weren't right early. His heart was pounding, his mechanics were off, and his pitches were missing the mark.

Moments after giving up the homer to Cano, Shields got Alex Rodriguez to bounce out to third to end the inning. And as everyone else jogged off the field, he walked slowly to the dugout and held his glove over his face to hide the curses he had for himself.

"This is the playoffs for our team right now. We're fighting. We don't have the gimmes like we've had the last few years," Shields said. "Every out, every home run, every mistake you make, it gets magnified."

8:05 p.m. Jed Lowrie hits a home run in Baltimore to put the Red Sox up 2-1. Eight minutes later at Tropicana, B.J. Upton doubles to drive in two runs and tie the score 2-2. "They're not going to go away," Red Sox announcer Joe Castiglione said.

For three long innings, Shields was not quite himself. He was throwing almost as many balls as strikes, and his command in the strike zone was lacking, too.

He bumped into a coffee cup in the dugout in the third and had to change his uniform top. An inning later, he changed some mechanics, and the game began to hum.

"The first three innings he was getting way too long, he was overdoing it, he was probably too pumped up," Hickey said. "After that, he shortened up his stride a little bit, and that's when you saw some quicker outs."

8:48 p.m. Chris Davis hits an RBI single off Josh Beckett to tie the score 2-2 in Baltimore. "You know this score is flashing on the scoreboard at Tropicana tonight, and their fans, however many they may have, are celebrating it," O'Brien said on the air.

One out from his major-league leading 12th complete game, Shields walked Eric Chavez. His pitch count was up to 117, and Maddon came out to get him.

For the record, Shields will finish two outs shy of 250 innings for the season.

In the past 10 years, only three AL pitchers have thrown more. Roy Halladay did it in 2003 and won the Cy Young award. Felix Hernandez did it in 2010 and won the Cy Young. Justin Verlander has done it this season and is certain to win the Cy Young.

"Two outs short? We couldn't go extra innings tonight?" Shields joked. "That's pretty nice, man. You look back at the whole year, I'm very, very happy with the way I came back from last year. It's been a phenomenal year so far.

"But I'll worry about that when the season is over and I'm sitting at home watching some football."

10:18 p.m. Kyle Farnsworth gets the final out, and the Rays are a half-game behind the Red Sox. On Tropicana's scoreboard, the TV broadcast of the Red Sox game is televised as most of the crowd remain in their seats. Three minutes later, the Sox lose. "In Game No. 160, Tampa Bay has caught the Red Sox," O'Brien says on WEEI. "The Red Sox's nine-game lead is gone."

James Shields' steady arm has set things right for Tampa Bay Rays 09/27/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 5:58pm]

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