BOSTON — There is a lot of chatter around the Rays about how every member of their rotation has the talent to be the ace of a staff. But there are certain times, when things are spinning fast and spiraling downward, as they had been, that a starter has to step up on the mound and prove it.
And James Shields showed yet again Monday, stopping a four-game skid and a three-day Boston battering with a stellar performance in a 1-0 win, that he is the most valuable starter the Rays have.
"He was everything we needed him to be," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "Incredible."
"Unbelievable," manager Joe Maddon said. "We absolutely needed something like that (Monday). James did not disappoint."
Shields tamed the same Sox lineup that tagged the Rays for 31 runs and 39 hits the previous three days, allowing only four singles and two walks (and only one runner past second base) while working into the ninth.
"It was my job to stop the bleeding," Shields said. "We had a rough three games. They were hot. They were swinging the bats pretty well. It was my job to go out there and get it done."
There was some question if the Rays would bring Shields back, as he turned 30 — a scarlet number as they hadn't used a starter that old since 2007 — but also because of his $8 million option, the highest salary current Rays ownership has paid a pitcher. But days like Monday show just how valuable he can be.
"It's very big," Maddon said. "(He) serves as an example for the rest of the group to attack the strike zone, get after these guys, don't try to be so fine with our stuff. That's what we've been doing. We've been tap-dancing around the strike zone. We have not really pitched our typical kind of game not because anybody's hurt or down; I think we've been out-thinking ourselves just a little bit."
After watching David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore struggle, Shields was well aware of his responsibility: "I think that's what we all do as a staff — we get a couple of guys who aren't throwing so well, the next guy's got to pick him up. Fortunately for me, (Monday) was my day."
Shields wasn't quite the whole story as the Rays averted a four-game sweep and evened their record at 5-5.
Longoria is in there, drawing a bases-loaded walk in the seventh off Daniel Bard to force in the only run. So is Fernando Rodney, who took over for Shields with a man on and got Adrian Gonzalez to ground out and, after intentionally walking David Ortiz, struck out Cody Ross looking at 97 mph heat. Also catcher Jose Molina, for throwing out Ross to end the sixth.
And, of course, Boston manager Bobby Valentine. Already having a bad day given reaction to his comments that Kevin Youkilis wasn't as committed as in the past, Valentine made it worse by not taking out converted reliever Bard, who had loaded the bases with two outs by walking Sean Rodriguez, allowing a single to Desmond Jennings and throwing four straight balls to Carlos Peña, pushing his pitch count to 107.
"The wrong decision, obviously," Valentine said.
"I didn't even think he was going to leave him in for Carlos," Longoria said. "And then I was really surprised he left him in for me."
Bard's first pitch missed by a few inches, and that was the best of the four. Maddon put on the take sign at 3-0 — or, as he called it, "7-and-0," just to be sure — but Longoria had no plans to swing. The Rays had their run and, a few anxious innings later, an important win as they headed off following the marathon day matinee for Toronto.
"Eleven o'clock in the morning after losing three games in a row here, a lot of teams would give up at that point," Maddon said. "Our guys did not. Pretty outstanding."
And it all started with the starter.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]