With two series and a total of seven games still to be played between the Yankees and Tampa Bay it's obvious that pitching is indeed the name of the game for the Rays.
Whereas Saturday night the Yankees topped Matt Garza, he the author of a franchise first no-hitter vs. Detroit earlier last week, Sunday afternoon TB's James Shields turned in his best outing as he led his club to a 3-0 win, with TB now standing just one game behind NY. In the post-game Rays manager Joe Maddon was asked to clarify if he meant Sundaywas Shields' best performance of 2010, Maddon said, "No, his best performance ever."
The right-hander had three pitches working. Although his fastball topped at an average 90 mph, it had incredible movement tailing away from Yankee lefties and down and in or up and in to the righties. Everyone on the Rays bench agreed that event though Shields' best pitch continued to be an outstanding change-up, it was until today that he commanded a good curve ball, as well. If the Yankees weren't coming up empty on a change dropping out of the zone they were having a tough time with the change of speeds and movement provided by the fastball and curve. The three effective pitches led to 10 strikeouts while Shields yielded just four hits and one walk in 6-1/3 strong innings.
If Shields can continue the type of work he turned in against the Yanks on Sunday, and combine that with outstanding young southpaw David Price, thealways potentially dominant Garza, and young giant righty Jeff Niemann (3.08 ERA), the Rays can present possibly the top four starters in baseball.
Coming down the stretch of the long season, just 60 games to go, those with the best and most consistent pitching usually have a leg up on everyone else. Who's that going to be?