Upton's big hit backs Shields' gem vs. Twins
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com | 4/21/2012 11:50 PM E
MIN@TB: Upton clears the bases and breaks the tie
ST. PETERSBURG -- Joe Maddon is reluctant to anoint anybody a true No. 1 starter since there are so few in baseball, at least in the mind of the Rays' skipper.
James Shields pitches in the top spot in the Rays' rotation, but Maddon does not consider the right-hander a true No. 1 just yet. However, after yet another dominant performance by Shields in Saturday night's 4-1 win over the Twins, Maddon did allow that Shields "is morphing into" a No. 1.
"I think what he did last year definitely put him on the right path to be that guy," Maddon said. "What he's doing right now could pretty much put him in that category.
"To me, to be categorized in that way you have to do it over a period of time. I'm not talking weeks or months. I mean, it's got to occur over years. The old Devil Rays' way was if somebody did something well over a couple of weeks or months, they would be canonized and all of a sudden become this wonderful thing. Whereas I think [Shields is] definitely on the road to becoming that guy. But I don't want to put the crown on him yet."
A raucous Tropicana Field crowd of 31,774 got behind "Big Game" James, and he rewarded their patronage by allowing one run in eight-plus innings to pick up the win and move to 3-0 on the season.
"I felt pretty good," Shields said. "I was mixing up my pitches and getting ahead in the count. That's a tough little ball club over there, and obviously [Twins starter Carl] Pavano looked good over there as well. So I'm glad we got the win."
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire credited Shields as the deciding factor in Saturday night's game.
"He just pretty much dominated us," Gardenhire said. "A tough night at the plate, but guys like that can do that to you.
"... He's got all the pitches -- great fastball, great changeup, cuts the ball in, moves it in and off the plate. He's just a pitcher. He's an athletic guy out there on the mound and a very good pitcher. He's a gamer."
Meanwhile, B.J. Upton came through when the Rays needed him most.
After failed scoring opportunities in the fourth and fifth innings, Tampa Bay had runners on second and third with two outs in the sixth. Matt Joyce was intentionally walked to bring Upton to the plate.
"I knew it was coming once there was a base open," Upton said. "I was prepared for it a couple of hitters before. I was kind of watching the way things were playing out. I just told myself go up there and relax, get a good pitch to hit. Don't try to do too much."
Pavano got ahead in the count, 0-2. Upton fought back to even the count at 2-2 before looping a single into center field. Two runs scored on the hit, and another on a throwing error by Denard Span.
"Fell behind 0-2 and just kind of told myself to bear down and at least put the ball in play," Upton said. "You put the ball in play, you never know what will happen. Obviously, you kind of saw that -- got the hit."
Upton, who was playing in just his second game since returning from the disabled list, smiled when asked how good coming through for his team felt.
"Got a piano off my back, man," Upton said.
Tampa Bay added a run in the seventh thanks largely to two Twins errors. The second one came with one out and the bases loaded, when Evan Longoria grounded to third baseman Danny Valencia, allowing a run to score and all runners to be safe.
Prior to the sixth, the game had featured a pitching duel between Shields and Pavano.
Tampa Bay threatened with one out in the fourth after Luke Scott doubled to left on the 10th pitch of his at-bat against Pavano. He moved to third on a single by Matt Joyce, but he did not score as he continues to nurse a tight left hamstring. Upton then hit into an inning-ending double play.
Jose Molina doubled to left off Pavano to lead off the Rays' fifth and moved to third on Sean Rodriguez's sacrifice bunt. Desmond Jennings tried to bunt home Molina, but Twins first baseman Joe Mauer made a diving catch and doubled up Molina at third to end the inning.
Shields, who had 11 complete games in 2012, appeared close to notching his first of the 2012 season. Instead, he exited after allowing back-to-back hits to start the ninth. Fernando Rodney finished things off after allowing the Twins to get on the board with a sacrifice fly.
"Hopefully I'll get a few more opportunities to [pitch a complete game this season]," Shields said. "Eight strong. I felt like I did my job tonight. Molina was really good back there tonight. We were on the same page the entire game. He did a great job back there."