Sunday, May 27, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays prepare for ex-teammate Shields

KANSAS CITY, Mo.

Part of what makes James Shields the pitcher he is, and what made him the pitcher the Royals wanted badly enough from the Rays to part with elite prospect Wil Myers, is the intensity he brings to the mound to win each and every game.

But sitting in the Kauffman Stadium dugout Monday afternoon, Shields admitted — if this is actually possible — he is even more motivated to beat the Rays when he faces his former team and mates for the first time tonight.

"I want to win every single time I go out there, but, yeah, definitely, there's no doubt, man, there's no doubt, I want to beat them," Shields said. "If I don't, I don't. It is what it is. They have a good team over there. They know me as well as I know them, so that should be a very interesting little chess game."

Assorted Rays have used a variety of words — weird, emotional, odd, awkward and strange — in describing the pending reunion.

Shields has a simple answer.

"I think it's going to be fun, man," he said. "I'm going to have fun out there. I was with the Rays for 12 years, there's a lot of memories over there, a lot of guys I've been with for a long time. On the other hand, I want to beat them."

Shields looks comfortable in Royals blue, and happy. He has pitched well, his 1-2, 3.09 record as much a product of a lack of support and some close losses, which is something of a familiar feeling.

"I came over here with the mind-set of just being me, being myself and hopefully this team would adapt to it, and they have," Shields said. "They've done a great job of taking me, and really accepting everything that I'm all about."

The most tangible sign of his presence in the Royals clubhouse is the neon light mounted on the wall next to the locker with the familiar No. 33, an idea Shields brought with him from the Rays — designating a "player of the game" in wins who gets to pull the cord. (Former Ray Wade Davis, who came over in the same deal, added the idea of a T-shirt for the player that reads "King of the Game.")

But there are many others.

"He's brought tremendous leadership qualities," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He brings tremendous work ethic. He brings a tremendous attitude that's not only for himself, but bleeds over to his teammates. He's brought energy. … He brings a whole suitcase of great stuff with him."

That includes a presence, his competitive nature, an attacking mind-set that other pitchers have picked up.

And something else …

"You feel when you've got him on the mound that you're going to win the ballgame," outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. "To me, there's not a lot of guys in the game you can say that about, but he's definitely one of those for us."

The Rays know all that, of course, as Shields is their all-time leader in wins, starts, innings and strikeouts.

And they are prepared to see him at his best tonight.

"It'll be strange seeing James," manager Joe Maddon said. "After you get over that moment, you know how tough he's going to be in that particular game, you know how motivated he's going to be to pitch well against us."

There's a fair debate over who has the advantage. The Rays hitters and staff are obviously familiar with Shields' arsenal and tendencies (with pitching coach Jim Hickey offering some info to hitting coach Derek Shelton), and Shields has intimate knowledge of what the Rays players can and can't do.

Third baseman Evan Longoria — who apologized for comments he made about Shields earlier — said the Rays are looking forward to the challenge.

"I think it's going to be fun," Longoria said. "I think win, lose or draw, it will be an interesting experience, and a good test for all of us."

Though Longoria cautions they can't get too "caught up in the moment," he acknowledged there may be a few sly smiles exchanged, especially if Shields gets him to chase one of his trademark changeups. And though Shields visited with some of the Rays on Sunday night and Monday, he said it will be different from 60 feet, 6 inches away tonight.

"I don't know," Shields said. "There may be a couple, but I'm pretty intense out there. I'll probably stone-face it. I'll be smiling after the game, hopefully."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]

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