Shields leads Rays to win
Pena, Wigginton, Wilson each have two-RBI games in opener
ST. PETERSBURG -- Joe Maddon went to the cupboard before Tuesday night's game and found the necessary ingredients to make a "Carlos Pena sandwich."
Put Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton in front of Pena in the cleanup spot, put Delmon Young behind him, press it all together and it tasted like an 8-3 win over the Angels in front of a crowd of 9,430 at Tropicana Field.
Of all the ingredients, Upton might have been the most impressive, hitting in the No. 3 spot on a night when the Rays collected 16 hits. The Rays center fielder, who came off the disabled list on Friday night, went 3-for-4 while scoring two runs and driving in another. One of the runs he scored came in the Rays' five-run fifth inning, when he scored from first base on a Pena double off the right-field wall.
"I like [having Upton hit in front of me]," Pena said. "I got two guys who can run pretty well. That ball bounced off the wall, my first reaction was, 'OK, I know Crawford will score,' but when I saw B.J. come around and score that run, that's big. I like that, two fast guys in front of me. That's great."
Pena shook his head before addressing the athleticism of Crawford and Upton.
"They can do it all," Pena said. "It's amazing. I'm always in awe of their talent. It's fun to watch."
Upton smiled when asked about his new spot in the order.
"I like it there," Upton said. "You got [Akinori Iwamura] and C.C. in front of you and Pena behind you, it doesn't get much more protected than that. Yeah, I like it all right."
The Upton of 2007 is a far different model than what Rays fans saw in 2006. Upton struggled to find a position last year and ended up playing third base once he joined the Rays from Triple-A Durham. Meanwhile, the potent bat that enticed the Rays to use the No. 2 pick of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft seemed to have gone dormant. Now Upton's enjoying the fruits of being a .336 hitter and seemingly on the verge of realizing the lofty forecast for his future.
"I think my confidence level is back up," Upton said. "I got my swing going the right way. And I think that's the biggest thing so far."
An offshoot of having Upton in the No. 3 hole was the freedom to use Ty Wigginton in the seventh spot. Wigginton responded with a 4-for-4 performance while running his consecutive hits total to eight at-bats, which tied Aubrey Huff's team record set in September 2004.
Wigginton downplayed his second consecutive 4-for-4 game.
"I'm doing the same thing I've been doing all year," he said.
In deference to Wigginton, a reporter noted that the Rays designated hitter used to make an out once in a while. To wit, Wigginton replied: "I'm sure I've got some in me still."
James Shields started for the Rays and proved to be the benefactor of an offensive outburst.
Shields allowed two runs on seven hits in seven innings to record his eighth win of the season. The Rays right-hander credited the film work he did between starts for making a big difference.
"I looked at my last game and felt my arm angle was down a little last game," Shields said. "The difference between tonight and my last game was I had a little more of a down angle on my pitches. If the pitch is over the plate and it's going down, it's a little harder to hit than a flat pitch."
Shields' changeup continues to be his best pitch, but the development of his fastball, curve and cutter are all proving to be integral for keeping hitters from sitting on the change.
"I was using my cutter a lot tonight," Shields said. "I felt like that was my best pitch tonight and it was keeping them off balance. ... I think [the cutter] is a good pitch. You've got cutters going in to lefties and away to righties, it kind of plays off my changeup a little bit."
But run support might have been the biggest asset to Shields' chances for winning on Tuesday night.
"We did a great job of hitting tonight," Shields said. "If I keep them in the game and we hit like that, it's a done deal."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.