To say Rays right-hander James Shields is eager for tonight's World Series start is an understatement.
Shields, nicknamed "Big Game James," has lost his past two postseason starts, though he hasn't pitched particularly poorly. In fact, in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, Shields was on top of his game, but Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka kept the Rays' bats at bay as Boston won 2-0.
Shields would rather revert to that form than repeat his last outing, when he struggled with his command and gave up four runs (three earned) and nine hits in 52/3 innings in Game 6.
"I think my first game (in the ALCS), I was right where I needed to be," Shields said. "My location was really good. My fastball command was really good. My changeup was really good that game and my curveball was pretty good. So I think the first game I was pretty much on my A game, and I think that's what we need to have.
"As far as my second game goes, I don't think I was on with my fastball command as I wanted to be. 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 and giving our team a chance to win."
Shields prides himself on being an old-school pitcher, working into the late innings. But though he has surpassed his career high in innings pitched (2341/3, including the postseason), Shields credits an improved offseason conditioning for why he's still feeling "really good."
"Last year I think I approached 215 innings, and my body kind of had some wear and tear," Shields, 26, said. "I think I changed my offseason program a little bit to counteract maybe this situation.
"I didn't think we were going to be in the World Series, but you never know. I thought I was going to be able to pitch 230, 240 innings this year, and my body feels really, really good right now."
And Shields expects a tough task tonight in Game 2.
Though the Phillies have developed a reputation for being a slugging team (with the second-most homers in majors this year), Shields pointed out how versatile their lineup can be from top to bottom.
"Not only do they hit the long ball, they can run the bases and play small ball as well," he said. "I consider their team more similar to our team, more than any other team in the playoffs. And I think that's a pretty good matchup for us."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.