Rays fans remember James Shield’s dazzling 2011 season when he pitched 11 complete games. His handiwork that year earned him the nickname Complete Game James to go along with Big Game James, but the legacy began five years prior to that when Shields pitched his first complete game. It was August 9, 2006, and the Devil Rays were facing the Seattle Mariners in the final game of a three-game series at Safeco Field.
Starting pitcher Jarrod Washburn took the mound for Seattle and walked Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford in the first inning, but no runs were scored for Tampa Bay. However, Shields found himself in the middle of an sticky inning, with Ichiro Suzuki scoring the first run for Seattle off of Adrian Beltre’s single. Beltre advanced to second base in the following play off of Shields’ wild pitch to Raul Ibanez. Shields escaped the inning by striking out Seattle’s Richie Sexson.
In the bottom of the third inning, Shields threw his second strikeout to Suzuki but was faced with another rough inning in the fourth when Adrian Beltre hit a homerun. Two batters later, Shields walked Sexson but finished the inning with no more runs scored. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s unproductive offense could offer no support for Shields, with Seattle’s Washburn recording two strikeouts against the Devil Rays. Shields retaliated by striking out two of Seattle’s four batters he faced in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Ben Zobrist led off with a single in the top of the sixth inning. However, Washburn struck out the following two batters and Crawford hit a lineout to left field for the inning’s final out. Tampa Bay’s offense showed some promise in the seventh inning as Travis Lee singled, followed by a single to left field by B.J. Upton. With the pressure on, reliever Rafael Soriano, who would later become a reliever for the Rays in 2010, replaced Washburn. Soriano recorded the final out of the inning by striking out pinch hitter Dioneer Navarro.
Shields had a strong seventh inning, including striking out Rene Rivera. The Devil Rays attempted to support Shields as Ben Zobrist led off the eighth inning with a single. Soriano walked Damon Hollins, but the two Devil Rays were left on base at the end of the inning. In his final inning of the game, James Shields had another strong performance in the bottom of the eighth, and struck out Beltre for his sixth strikeout of the game. However, Seattle’s reliever J.J. Putz finished the game by striking out B.J. Upton and Jonny Gomes. Shields went 8 innings, a complete game because there was no bottom of the 9th, allowing just 2 runs on 5 hits, striking out 6 while walking 1. It was the best start of his young career, but it went for nought as the Devil Rays couldn’t generate any offense off of Mariners pitching.
While 2006 was James Shields’ first season in the big leagues, his first complete game that year revealed a sliver of what was to come for him. During his career, Shields has pitched 19 complete games. Now, he’s considered the veteran of the Rays’ starting rotation, continuously providing solid performances on the mound and leadership in the clubhouse as he has become the foundation for the Rays’ successful pitching staff. But even Shields was an inconsistent rookie once upon a time. Who knew that Shields’ gem from back in 2006 would turn into the legendary performances of Big Game James that we all cherish today?