Rays fall despite Shields' 11 Ks
Four-run fifth inning tarnishes strong pitching effort
ST. PETERSBURG -- James Shields had the White Sox eating out of his hand on Tuesday night.
There were two outs in the fifth with a runner aboard and the Devil Rays trailing by a run; Shields had already struck out eight. Scott Podsednik then sped up the game.
And by the time everything got sorted out, the White Sox had a five-run lead and they were well on their way to a 6-1 win in front of a crowd of 11,954 at Tropicana Field.
Shields looked to be in total control when Podsednik hit one back to the box that glanced off his glove. The ball fell to the third-base side of the mound while Shields hustled to find its location. Once found, he pounced on the ball and got off a hurried throw to first.
"Podsednik hit it right at me and I thought I had it in my glove, I mean, the way it sounded in my glove I thought I had it," Shields said. "I looked in there and it wasn't in there. I knew he's a pretty fast runner so I had to hurry up and get the ball. I thought I had a shot at him. It was a tough play."
First baseman Carlos Pena watched the play develop and knew what he had to do.
"James went after it aggressively," Pena said. "Me on my part, I'm trying to stop the ball from hitting the runner, but I couldn't get it on time. I saw it was going to go on the line of the runner. And basically, you try to get in front of the runner before the ball hits him. I couldn't get there."
The ball rolled into right field and one run scored.
"It almost seemed like the ball got caught up in the runner's legs and he kicked it to right field," Pena said. "Even when I went after it, I thought I had a chance at home plate. I had to plant and throw, I thought I made a pretty good throw, but he was in there."
Instead of walking back to the dugout after retiring the side, Shields found himself going back to work trailing, 2-0, with Podsednik on second, Andy Gonzalez stepping to the plate and who knows what going on in his mind.
"I think about the next four pitches. I don't think I was focusing the way I should have been," Shields said.
Gonzalez hit Shields' first pitch and deposited it 371 feet from home plate into the right-field stands.
"I didn't think it was that bad of a pitch, but the scouting report says he's going the other way," Shields said. "He hits the ball the other way real well. I threw a cutter and it was on the outer half, but that's where he likes to hit it."
Jim Thome followed with a shot into the left-field stands and just like that, Shields and the Rays trailed 5-0.
"I left a few balls up and they hit them out," Shields said. "This team, they're a free-swinging team. Everyone on that team can hit a homer at any time. So when you lose focus it will hurt you. ... It happened so fast. That's just the way this game goes. You have to kind of slow it down. As a pitcher you have to kind of back off the mound and regroup. I didn't do that tonight. The next time I'm going to learn from tonight and I'm going to do it."
Shields' one bugaboo this season has been the long ball; he leads the Major Leagues by allowing 18 home runs this season.
"It's the luck of the draw," said Shields when asked about the home runs. "You can make some good pitches and these guys will still hit it out. You can make some bad pitches and they won't hit it out. It's just the luck of the draw. I just have to pitch better and make some better pitches."
Particularly frustrating for Shields, who took his third consecutive loss after starting the season 6-0, was the fact he had particularly nasty stuff as evidenced by his 11 strikeouts in seven innings pitched.
"It's frustrating, I have to get better," Shields said. "You throw 107 pitches and it's funny because it all comes down to four pitches."
In two games against the Rays, the White Sox have now managed to strike out 26 times. A Rays promotion gives fans with a ticket stub from the game a free pizza if Rays pitchers strikeout 10 or more batters. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen managed to find some humor in the arrangement.
"I'll buy a ticket tomorrow, I have to," Guillen said. "I feel bad for the people who make the pizza. They'll go out of business."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.