Pitching formula works in Rays' win
Shields goes seven strong; Hinske single shy of cycle
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Every manager in baseball prescribes the formula followed by the Rays on Tuesday night at Champion Stadium.
James Shields gave the Rays seven strong innings. Dan Wheeler and Troy Percival then retired the final six hitters in the eighth and the ninth, respectively, to preserve a 6-4 win over the Blue Jays in front of a crowd of 8,269.
"I've always talked about a formulaic game," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Pitching-wise, [Tuesday night] was kind of it right there."
Such a formula begins with the starting pitcher, and once again, Shields proved he doesn't have to have his best stuff to win, which is the sign of a true pitcher
Part of pitching like Shields pitches is not letting frustration set in, when doing so would be the easiest path. In the second inning, Shields walked two and the Rays committed two errors -- one by Shields himself -- to put the Rays in a 2-0 hole. But Tampa Bay bounced back when Evan Longoria ripped a 2-2 pitch over the center-field fence for a solo homer and back-to-back hits from Eric Hinske and Dioner Navarro followed to tie the game.
Slowly, but surely, Shields found his way.
"At the beginning of the game, I felt like I was struggling a little bit, but I picked it up in the second half," said Shields, who called making do with whatever stuff he has on a given night "the name of the game."
"If you don't have your stuff, you have to pitch with your guts and your instincts," Shields said. "Later in the game, I felt like I got my pitches together and I felt like I was making good pitches most of the game. [The home-plate umpire] was squeezing me a little bit, but that's the way it goes sometimes."
Shields surrendered a leadoff home run to Vernon Wells in the sixth, then retired the final six hitters he faced.
"I think it builds character, if you battle through a game like that," Shields said. "Get deep into the game for the team. I try to keep us in the ballgame as deep as I can. And we came out with a win."
Maddon called Shields' pitching well, regardless of his stuff, "the competitive aspect of him."
"I like the idea that he's not at the top of his game yet and he's still pitching relatively well," Maddon said. "It's going to keep getting better."
While it's going to keep getting better for Shields, it doesn't get much better for Eric Hinske than it did Tuesday night.
Hinske botched a play at first in the second inning, but he more than made up for his miscue by starting a nifty 3-6-3 double play to end the fifth. And he swung the bat well, collecting a double, triple and home run in his first three at-bats to leave him a single short of the cycle when he stepped to the plate for his final at-bat in the eighth. Scott Downs quieted Hinske's bid for one of the more rare baseball feats by striking out Hinske. Hinske, who was a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, managed to smile afterward.
"I knew about [the cycle] for sure, going into that last at-bat," Hinske said. "The bottom line is we got a win tonight. It was good to get three hits. I would have liked to have hit for the cycle tonight, but I'll take three hits and a win any day of the week."
By winning Tuesday night, the Rays improve their record to at Champion Stadium, located at Disney's Wide World of Sports, to 4-0. And they did so by following the formula to a 'T.'
"It's great," Wheeler said. "It all keyed off Shieldsy. He pitched a great game out there. [Following the formula] rarely happens. That's just the way it is. But if you map it out, that's how it's supposed to go."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.