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Rays pick Shields to start opener

ST. PETERSBURG — RHP James Shields knows its useless trying to make it feel like just another start. It's the first playoff game in Rays history. It's his first postseason appearance. This, he said, is big.

"You've got to try (to make it routine)," the 26-year-old said after being named the starter for Thursday's American League Division Series opener at Tropicana Field, "but to be honest with you, it's not going to be like a regular game. It's a playoff atmosphere. I've never been in it before. I'm looking forward to taking on the challenge. This is the kind of game I want to be in."

Shields earned the start over a staff that has four other 11-plus-game winners in part because of a 14-8 record and 3.56 ERA in 33 starts, in part because of his penchant for going deep into games (at least seven innings in 18 starts). A long outing would keep the bullpen fresh, with Scott Kazmir — who has battled high pitch counts and short stints — slated for Game 2 on Friday. The teams are idle Saturday.

Shields was working in the outfield at Tropicana Field on Tuesday when manager Joe Maddon informed him.

"You pretty much know that Shields can go deep into the game,'' Maddon said. "Kaz obviously has not gone deep into the games, but normally you're pretty much in the game by the time he leaves and you have a pretty good chance to win. …

"And then, of course, you have the buffer, the next day, the off day, with the bullpen. Just some common sense applied to it."

WHAT, THEM WORRIED? The Rays don't exactly sound intimidated by this whole playoffs thing.

"I know there's no substitute for experience in the postseason, but I think we might just be young enough and dumb enough as a club to win the whole thing," rookie 3B Evan Longoria said.

On the other hand, Longoria said — before Tuesday's game — he would "much prefer to play the Twins'' because the White Sox are a more veteran club with more patient hitters. "Go up and down their lineup, guys who played a lot of years in the big leagues and know how to handle the pressure,'' he said.

CALLING THE GAME: TBS made an interesting choice for the play-by-play assignment for the games at the Trop, hiring Don Orsillo, who happens to be the play-by-play announcer for the Red Sox on NESN. The analyst will be former big-leaguer Harold Reynolds and the field reporter Marc Fein.

AND CALLING THE GAME: Joe West, a 31-year veteran umpire who designed the West vest chest protector and has recorded country music CDs (see countryjoewest.com) will be behind the plate for the opener. The crew includes Gary Darling, Jeff Kellogg, CB Bucknor, Eric Cooper and Ron Kulpa.

MISCELLANY: Closer Troy Percival, who has not pitched consecutive nights since Sept. 20-21 and nursed various injuries, did not participate in a two-hour workout Tuesday. … RPs J.P. Howell and Chad Bradford threw to hitters off the mound. … OF Jonny Gomes said he was told he would not be on the playoff roster but would travel with the team. … Durham INF Reid Brignac played in an instructional league game with LF Carl Crawford for the second straight day and worked out with the Rays.

Rays pick Shields to start opener 09/30/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 1, 2008 9:41am]
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