Martin Fennelly Columns
Shields assists in return of Rays ball
TAMPA - Now this looked familiar. The pitching, the closing, the timely run-scoring … walk. That's the Ray way. It's on to Toronto, and who knows how this 10-game road trip will end, but the Rays avoided disaster in Boston on Monday afternoon, avoiding a five-game losing streak and a four-game sweep by the Red Sox with a 1-0 win.James Shields threw down, again. He pitched into the ninth inning and gave up no runs and only four hits. He was so bulldog strong that a bases-loaded walk by Evan Longoria is all the offense Tampa Bay needed. Consider that Boston had found its form and abused Rays pitching for three days and 31 runs, Consider that Tampa Bay's staff entered Monday last in the majors with a 6.75 ERA. Consider that Shields' career ERA at Fenway was 6.75, with one win and nine losses. Shields' performance was what the Rays needed, as was Fernando Rodney, the new closer, who got that final two outs, including Boston's Cody Ross looking, low fastball loaded with gas. We'd almost forgotten what this kind of Rays ball had looked like. After the big opening weekend sweep of the Yankees, caution was in order as this trip began, and now we know why, as the Rays dropped 2 of 3 in Detroit before Boston took the first three at Fenway Park. But Shields reminded us what this season will have to be about if its going to amount to anything. It will take starting pitching, the kind that has people thinking the Rays' rotation is among the best in the game. It hasn't really looked that way so far, save for Jeremy Hellickson's brilliant turn against the Yankees and Shields' start in Detroit, where the Rays beat Justin Verlander in the ninth, then Monday, when Shields needed to stop the team's bleeding. He did, and they did, at least for a day. Look, the pitching, at least the starting pitching, will come. That's what the Rays do. True, there are slight concerns, like David Price and Matt Moore's Fenway starts. Come to think of it, Hellickson wasn't much good up there, either. And there are major concerns. Some of those bullpen ERAs are alarming: J.P. Howell, 7.71; Jake McGee, 10.80; Burke Badenhop 6.75, not to mention Joel Peralta's 27.00. Rodney has been the exception. He picked up his fourth save Monday. He hasn't allowed a run or a hit in six appearances. As for the offense, well, what did you expect, even with Carlos Pena coming back and Luke Scott aboard? The Rays are hitting .249, and I wouldn't be surprised if that was around at the end of the season. They've scored 38 runs in 10 games, which is about right for this lineup, particularly without B.J. Upton in it. Granted, there are slight concerns (Ben Zobrist has just one hit right-handed) and major concerns (infielders Sean Rodriguez, Reid Brignac and Elliott Johnson are a combined 7 for 46 with no RBIs). Great pitching is what the Rays had last season, led by great starting pitching. Some days that's all they'll have. That's the Ray way, and Monday it got them back to .500. Hey, where did that 3-0 start go? On the other hand, there are the Red Sox, who just took 3 of 4 from their tormentors from last September and still come out of this hurting, having lost Jacoby Ellsbury, their MVP last season, to a shoulder injury after Brignac landed on him at second base. And there's the dust-up Sox manager Bobby Valentine created by going public on the struggling Kevin Youklis, who sat Monday. Both Youklis and Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia went public right back on Bobby V, who has apologized, but … You see, it's not so bad where the Rays are at. Sometimes, one good start, by one good pitcher, is all it takes.