ST. PETERSBURG — Rays right-hander James Shields said he thrives in tough spots. An admitted old-school pitcher, Shields is eager to live up to his moniker of "Big Game James."
So it came as no surprise that, minutes after the Rays' 3-2 loss to the Phillies in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night, Shields, tonight's starter, said, "I'm ready to go right now."
And for his teammates, there are few guys they'd rather have on the mound when they face adversity. The Rays, down 1-0 in the best-of-seven series, need a win to avoid going back to Philadelphia in a huge hole.
"This is the guy who, as a team, we probably want on the hill right now," third baseman Evan Longoria said of Shields. "He's been pretty good, him and Matt Garza both, back-to-back now, we've got a good chance to win two games in a row."
Shields, who said the starters feed off each other, pointed out that left-hander Scott Kazmir pitched "great," allowing just three earned runs in six innings Wednesday in giving the Rays a chance to win.
Tonight, Shields will try to do the same and improve upon his last outing. In Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, Shields struggled with his command and gave up four runs on nine hits in his second straight loss.
"I don't think I was on with my fastball command as I wanted to be," Shields said. "I was just missing the plate. But sometimes that happens. And I thought I did a pretty good job of getting as deep as I could in the game."
That's a pattern. Shields, 26, has logged 2341/3 innings this season, a career high.
"Last year I think I approached 215 innings, and my body kind of had some wear and tear," he said. "I think I changed my offseason program a little bit to counteract maybe this situation."
Shields has shown he can perform well on the postseason stage, picking up a win in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the White Sox.
In Game 1 of the ALCS, Shields felt he had his "A game," giving up just two runs in 71/3 innings of a Rays 2-0 loss to the Red Sox.
"Big Game James, man, same thing," Rays reliever J.P. Howell said. "Once again, here he comes after a loss. This is just another one of those situations. He's got to do what he's been doing — nothing exceptional, we don't need great, amazing, we don't need a no-hitter. We need him to go seven strong. If he did that, we'll put ourselves in a good situation to take charge."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.