KANSAS CITY, Mo.
The Rays' initial impression of actually seeing James Shields on the mound in a Royals uniform pitching against them was odd. Awkward. Unusual.
"I'm not gonna lie," David Price said. "It was weird."
But after an over-amped first inning, Shields looked all too familiar, settling in and setting the Rays down, one after another, leading to an 8-2 victory over his ex-mates.
"It's very satisfying," Shields said. "I know every single one of those guys like the back of my hand over there. I've got a lot of brothers on that team. I definitely wanted to win this game."
A Ray for more than a decade and the acknowledged leader of their vaunted pitching staff until the December trade for a package of prospects topped by Wil Myers, Shields made clear how excited he was to see some familiar faces.
He visited with some of the Rays around town on Sunday night and Monday, and even a few hours before first pitch on Tuesday he was hanging out in the lobby between the clubhouses, joking with Price about golf, custom cleats and an invitation to stay at his new house in San Diego this winter, then chatting with opposing starter Alex Cobb and other assorted Rays personnel as they passed by, setting aside his usual pre-start intensity. Plus, his wife and parents flew in from California.
"I heard he was outside before the game talking to a lot of guys, which is unusual for James to be doing that prior to a start," manager Joe Maddon said. "But I understand under these circumstances that he would."
And when Shields finally took the mound, things didn't go well.
Desmond Jennings hit the first pitch off shortstop Alcides Escobar's glove for a single, and five pitches later Matt Joyce lashed a ball into the fountains for a 2-0 Rays lead.
Ben Zobrist got a good cut on a foul ball before flying out, and with Evan Longoria — who nodded at Shields before stepping into the box — working a full-count walk and James Loney doubling to right-center, the Rays had a chance to pile on quickly.
In the dugout, Maddon knew they needed to add on right then "because you know he knows how to settle down. And he did."
Shields struck out Yunel Escobar, a bit jumpy in his first game since Wednesday, and came back from a 3-and-0 count to strike out Luke Scott, who was just off the disabled list.
And from then on, Shields looked very much like the Rays remembered, and expected, allowing only a pair of singles over the next six innings and retiring his last 13.
"Vintage Shields," Price said. "That's just James Shields."
His new Royals teammates, shut down through the fifth inning by Cobb, who was doing an impressive Shields impersonation, broke through in the sixth, rapping five hits in a nine-pitch span and six overall to turn the 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 lead, Mike Moustakas' two-run homer the key swing.
It seemed as if the Royals were really excited to get Shields the lead, and manager Ned Yost said they were. "I think it was pretty obvious the emotion was really, really high," he said. "(Shields has) really bonded well with his teammates, and I think his teammates knew how big of a game this was for him. They bought in."
Conversely, Cobb said it was "the most angry I've ever been" leaving a game.
When it was all done, Shields admitted it was a little odd for him, too.
"It definitely was a lot of fun facing that team, I had a lot of good memories over there," he said. "It was a little weird seeing the Rays jerseys across the field. But it was a good game tonight."
More so for him.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.