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His end of the bargain

Pitching well for the Rays, Hart graduate’s efforts often go to waste

Posted: August 15, 2009 9:56 p.m.
Updated: August 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Hart graduate and Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Kansas City Royals on Aug. 2.

 
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields stood on the mound in the eighth inning Aug. 2 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. pitching a no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals.

He’s never thrown a no-hitter in his life.

Not while he was pitching at Hart High.

Not in the Minor Leagues.

Never.

His catcher Dioner Navarro said very little to him.

“It was a wonderful feeling,” Navarro recalled.

Then, in an instant, the no-hitter was gone. The Tampa Bay Rays crumbled and the game was lost.

The game was a microcosm of Shields’ season.

Though he has been steady for the Rays, he has had little luck.

“It’s been a crazy year,” Shields said Tuesday, sitting at his locker at Angel Stadium as the Rays were preparing to play the Los Angeles Angels that night. “Every single team has that one guy every year who doesn’t get the run support, does well and ends up losing games. I’m kind of that guy this year. Hopefully it will change over the next couple of months. For the first half of the season, I was always facing the No. 1 guy (on the other team). Those things are going to happen.”

It’s not lost on the Rays how well Shields has been pitching and how hard luck of a pitcher he has been this year.

Navarro said it.

Then manager Joe Maddon echoed it.

“He’s kind of the same cat (as last season),” Maddon said. “He always pitches late in games. This year, his record would be a lot better had we scored more runs for him, but I’d say the progress isn’t obvious to the naked eye. He’s pretty much been the same guy and that’s been a good thing.”

The 2000 Hart High graduate has seen a steady rise each year of his three-plus year Major League career.

Last year was his finest season.

He went 14-8 with a 3.56 ERA and won Game 2 of the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, the first and only World Series victory in Rays history.

This season, the 27-year-old Newhall-native is 7-9 with a 3.88 ERA.

But he is fourth in the American League in innings pitched.

After a rough July, Shields started off his August with the no-hit bid.

Nobody said a word to him as he cruised through the first seven innings against the Royals.

“It actually wasn’t too bad,” Shields said of his nerves. “I thought it would be worse. I thought I’d be tripping out, but I was actually nice and calm. It was one of those things, if it happens it happens.”

Then the bottom fell out.

Kansas City catcher John Buck hit a bloop single to end the no-hit bid.

Then Navarro made an error.

After another single and another Tampa Bay error, the Royals took a 2-0 lead and eventually beat Shields and the Rays 4-1.

“When I gave up the hit, I was bummed,” Shields said. “I was actually more bummed about giving up runs and getting the loss.”

Multiple people say the same thing about Shields — that he just needs to keep doing the same thing for the Rays this year.

The Rays for a decade were the worst team in baseball. Now they’re contenders — last season making the World Series and this year they’re in the hunt for the American League wild card.

And despite the numbers not telling the story, Shields is still a big reason why.

“Every time he takes the mound, we feel like we’ve got a shot,” Navarro said.

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