Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon caps long climb back to .500

New look: James Shields has only “trimmed” his hair — not cut it — since the All-Star break and gone 6-2 with a 4.42 ERA.

MARC TOPKIN | Times

New look: James Shields has only “trimmed” his hair — not cut it — since the All-Star break and gone 6-2 with a 4.42 ERA.

BALTIMORE — Manager Joe Maddon obviously doesn't want to be a .500 manager.

But given the way his career with the Rays began, 197 losses over two seasons, it marked a significant accomplishment when he got back to .500, at 391-391, with Friday's 4-1 win over the Orioles. The last time he was at .500 was 16 games into his first season, on April 20, 2006.

"We've got to keep advancing forward. Otherwise, it can go the other way,'' Maddon said. "It's great. I'm really happy about it, obviously, but it's a tribute to the players here. It's nothing that I'm doing.

"We've just grown as an organization, talent-wise, depth-wise. It really speaks to the job the front office has done and the scouting and development departments. That's really where this transition's come from. I happen to be the manager.''

There was some symmetry for Maddon on the night. His mother, Beanie, came over from their hometown of Hazleton, Pa., and was in the stands for his first win as Rays manager on April 6, 2006, and she was in the stands again Friday, sitting right behind the dugout with Maddon's wife and sister.

There's a chance for more history tonight as Maddon has had a winning record with the Rays just once in his five seasons, at 7-6 on April 16, 2006.

"Five hundred — that's like the old days when 70 wins was considered high. C'mon, give me a break,'' Maddon said. "Who want to be .500?''

HAIR'S THE STORY: RHP James Shields has done a lot of things to improve his performance since the All-Star break. And there's one thing he hasn't done that also could be, um, part of it — cut his hair.

After a miserable nine-game run going into the break — 2-7, 7.66 ERA — Shields decided he needed a change. So in addition to throwing more strikes and locating his pitches better, he decided to grow out the curly mop atop his head.

"My month of June wasn't too good, so I told myself after the All-Star break I wasn't going to cut my hair,'' said Shields, who starts tonight.

The results have been obvious, with a 6-2, 4.42 mark since the break.

"I figured I'd go back to the '06 model. When I got called up, I had pretty long hair," he said. "This seems to be working out so far."

Is there a name for his new look?

"I don't know what to call it," he said. "A little poodle on top of my head?"

LEANING LEFT: The Rays will "re-evaluate" the need for a second lefty reliever in 7-10 days, Maddon said.

Or it could be they are just waiting for LHP Jake McGee to convince them he can handle the role.

Since moving from Double-A Montgomery's rotation to Triple-A Durham's bullpen, McGee has dominated, throwing 142/3 scoreless innings over nine games (one a two-inning "start") before allowing his first run Friday. Overall, he has allowed nine hits with 24 strikeouts and three walks in 152/3 innings.

But he hasn't pitched on consecutive days, likely his next assignment. McGee, who had elbow ligament replacement surgery (Tommy John surgery) in July 2008, would be a welcome addition to the current crew, a hard-throwing lefty who can get out lefties and righties.

Veteran Brian Shouse seemed to be in line for that spot, but his poor performance — 0-2, 8.44, 17 hits and seven walks in 102/3 innings — combined with McGee's emergence might have changed the Rays' thinking.

MEMORABLE MOMENTS: Maddon couldn't say enough about the clearly touching and thrilling experience Thursday of receiving an honorary doctor of letters degree from Lafayette College in Easton, Pa.

"What they did really kind of exceeded any kind of expectations I had," he said. "A remarkable night."

Maddon, who plans to display the degree prominently in his Tropicana Field office, was especially appreciative of school officials inviting his wife, mother and other family members.

And he admitted he broke down when his niece and nephew presented him with a gift from the family — a pocket-sized Bible his father, who died in 2002, carried with him while serving in World War II.

FRIDAY FUN: The Rays improved to 4-17 on Fridays, having lost 14 of the previous 15.

FOR THE DEFENSE: The Rays matched their season high of nine straight games without an error.

MISCELLANY: RHP Rafael Soriano is the first pitcher since the 2005 inception of the award to be named Delivery Man of the Month more than once in a season. He won for May, July and August. … The Orioles scratched rookie LHP Brian Matusz from Sunday's start and will replace him with rookie RHP Chris Tillman.

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon caps long climb back to .500 09/03/10 [Last modified: Saturday, September 4, 2010 1:42am]

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