ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon has said momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher.
That's why the Rays felt confident when right-hander James Shields was set to take the ball for Saturday's crucial ALCS Game 6; Shields was excited to have a chance to live up to his "Big Game James" moniker and make everyone forget about the stunning collapse Thursday night, when the Rays blew a seven-run lead at Fenway.
But as Maddon said, Shields "was not on the top of his game" in Saturday's 4-2 loss to the Red Sox, giving up nine hits and four runs in just 52/3 innings. And reliever Grant Balfour, stellar throughout the regular season and early in the playoffs, again struggled to hit his spots.
"I was just missing tonight," Shields said. "I felt like I did a good job battling to try to give us a chance to win the game."
But Shields' struggles starting in the second inning when he gave up a leadoff homer to Kevin Youkilis. In the third, Shields walked three batters in an inning for just the second time this season (Aug. 14 at Oakland). Though Shields minimized the damage to just one run, he still couldn't be the stopper he wanted to be.
"There was one thing I didn't do tonight — I didn't keep the lead," Shields said. "(We) did a great job of getting ahead, I gave up a homer run to (Youkilis). We tied it up, and I gave up a home run to (Jason) Varitek. I didn't do a very good job of doing that. And I feel that's when the momentum changed."
Shields was relieved in the sixth after giving up a two-out homer to struggling catcher Varitek and an infield single to Coco Crisp.
J.P. Howell got into a jam when shortstop Jason Bartlett made a throwing error on a Dustin Pedroia grounder, putting runners on first and third. David Ortiz then delivered an RBI single off Howell before the left-hander could end the threat by striking out Youkilis.
Balfour came in with two outs in the seventh and ended up walking two of the three batters he faced. Though he didn't give up a run, Balfour has a 19.29 ERA in the American League Championship Series.
"I was just missing away," Balfour said. "I probably just haven't been locked in on the zone like I probably have been. … I need to be on my spot a little better. … I'm confident in myself and know I can do it. I know it's there. If (I'm needed today), I do I want the ball. I always want the ball."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org