The entire afternoon, the Rays could get nothing. Through 8 innings, they had just 2 baserunners off of Justin Verlander: a third inning walk by Jose Lobaton and a fifth inning single by Ben Zobrist. Verlander had glided effortlessly through the Rays lineup, using just 84 pitches as he allowed just the 1 hit and 1 walk while striking out 6. He was 3 outs away from a complete game 1-hitter. The Rays’ deficit was 2-0, but it felt like 100-0. But in an instant, everything changed.
Jeff Keppinger pinch-hit for Sean Rodriguez to start the 9th and singled, giving the Rays some hope. But Reid Brignac was blown away by a 98 MPH Verlander fastball, and it looked like he was back in control. Verlander quickly got ahead of Desmond Jennings 1-2. But he missed with a curveball to even the count and then he threw a 99 MPH fastball over the outside corner of the plate and a little up, and somehow Jennings connected, drilling a line drive single to right field to give the Rays first and third with 1 out. The Rays had the tying runs on base… but Verlander was just one groundball from a complete-game shutout as Carlos Pena entered the batter’s box. Pena battled back from 1-2, staying home on two Verlander curveballs down and out of the zone, and then Verlander lost control of his fastball as he ratcheted it up to 100 MPH, throwing a wild pitch for ball four that also allowed Keppinger to score, and suddenly the Rays were within 2-1 with 1st and 2nd and 1 out. Up came Evan Longoria to the plate. Verlander’s 1-1 pitch was another 100 MPH fastball, this one a great pitch down in the zone, but Longoria was able to put bat on ball and hit a bullet groundball just past Miguel Cabrera and into left field, tying the game at 2. That was it for Verlander, but the Rays were not done. After pinch-hitter Elliot Johnson walked versus lefty Daniel Schlereth, Tigers closer Jose Valverde came in to face Ben Zobrist with the bases loaded and the go-ahead run at third base. Zobrist battled with Valverde, working the count to 3-2, and then Valverde gave Zobrist a fastball up and over the plate, and Zobrist drilled a hard single to right-center, scoring 2 as the Rays came all the way back to take a 4-2 lead. After Fernando Rodney worked an easy 1-2-3 ninth inning, that was the final as the Rays came away with a satisfying win from the clutches of defeat.
James Shields didn’t give up. He was put in a tough position to begin with, matched up against Justin Verlander, one of the best pitchers in baseball. And his rough first inning had to be even more disparaging. Shields allowed a single to the red-hot Austin Jackson to begin the game, and after Jackson moved to 2nd on a Brennan Boesch grounder to 1st, Shields allowed an RBI single to Miguel Cabrera to give Detroit a 1-0 lead before Prince Fielder bounced into a 3-6-3 double play to end the inning.
Shields worked around a leadoff baserunner in the 2nd and a Cabrera single coupled with a Fielder walk to allow just the one 1st inning run through the first 4 innings. But Shields was unable to work around an Andy Dirks double to begin the 5th as Dirks advanced to 3rd on a groundball and scored when Shields wanted to throw a pickoff throw to 3rd but Evan Longoria was not covering the bag, leading to Shields stopping his delivery and making the throw, but he threw to Longoria at his normal third base position rather than covering the bag. That was ruled a balk, allowing Dirks to score. But Shields came back with perfect innings in the 6th and 7th and a shutout 8th to finish off his outing and keep the Rays close. Shields tossed 8 innings of 6-hit ball, allowing 2 runs while striking out 5 and walking just 1. 67 of his 105 pitches were strikes. Shields looked uncomfortable all afternoon against the powerful Tigers lineup, but refused to lose his composure on the mound and came away with the win in the game, improving his record to 1-0, as the Rays came back in the 9th.
It was huge for Shields to get back on track after his opening day disaster, and his efforts weren’t wasted as the Rays finally figured out something on offense in the 9th, rallying against Verlander and the Tigers relievers to come away with a well-deserved win. After the Tigers pulled away from the Rays in the 8th on Tuesday, the Rays left the Detroit crowd stunned on Wednesday afternoon and let the baseball world know not to disregard their offense. After looking like a team about to be swept for 8 innings on Wednesday, the Rays go for the series win on Thursday with Jeff Niemann making his season debut versus the Tigers’ Drew Smyly in his first major league start. It should be another thrilling game, and hopefully the end result will be the same as today.