No one can deny that although the Rays still have a great pitching staff after losing James Shields, there will be a void in the roster with Big Game James gone. Shields was given the nickname by fans during the 2011 season, when he pitched eleven complete games. Over his six-year career with the Rays, Shields holds the franchise record for most complete games with nineteen. On October 2, 2012, on the second to last night of the season, Shields’ recorded his nineteenth complete game while pitching fifteen strikeouts. Unfortunately, the Rays’ offense could not support the right-handed pitcher, causing the Baltimore Orioles to beat the Rays 1-0. It was official: the Rays were out of the race for clinching the second AL Wild Card slot. Despite this, it was a great game for Shields. So let’s look back at Shields’ dazzling performance the last time he took the mound for Tampa Bay.
Shields wasted no time getting to work in the top of the first inning as he struck out Baltimore’s Nate McLouth and Chris Davis. However, Miguel Gonzalez, the Orioles’ starting pitcher, was equally impressive as he struck out Desmond Jennings, B.J. Upton, and Ben Zobrist in a row to conclude the inning. Shields recorded another strikeout against Adam Jones in the second inning, and Evan Longoria leadoff the bottom of the inning with a single to left field. However, the Rays remained scoreless in the second and third innings. Both Shields and Gonzalez kept up the trend as they each recorded a strikeout in the third inning.
The fourth inning started off well for Shields, who struck out Nate McLouth for the second time that night. But, Chris Davis hit a solo shot to center field, making the score 1-0. The bottom of the inning showed promise for the Rays’ offense as Ben Zobrist drew a walk from Gonzalez, who went on to strike out Jeff Keppinger for the inning’s final out. Shields struck out three of Baltimore’s batters between the fifth and six innings, as he also gave up a single to Nate McLouth in the sixth inning. Although Baltimore could not score a run in the sixth inning, Tampa Bay attempted to as Chris Gimenez singled to shortstop. Ben Zobrist drew another walk from Gonzalez, but both were left on base at the end of the inning.
Shields continued his rampage against Baltimore’s offense, as he struck out five batters in the seventh and eighth innings. However, Tampa Bay’s hitters could not produce any runs during the two innings. As Shields recorded his final two strikeouts in the top of the ninth inning, the Rays held out hope that they could at least tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. As Ben Zobrist drew his third walk of the night from reliever Jim Johnson, he was left on base for the third time as the Rays lost.
Although it was a sad night in Tampa Bay because they were out of the hunt for a Wild Card spot, it will now become a memorable night because Shields’ final game in a Rays uniform was nothing short of spectacular. In his previous start on September 21, Shields also had a terrific night as the Rays beat the Toronto Blue Jays 12-1. In the bottom of the first inning, Shields recorded the Rays’ 1,267th strikeout of the season, earning them the American League single-season strikeout record.
It will be strange to see James Shields in a Royals uniform, since he was drafted by the Devil Rays in the 2000 amateur draft and has spent his entire career with the franchise. But, at least our final memories of Shields as a Rays player are also some of the highlights of his career and the franchise as well.