This Baseball Digest writer suggested the Rays trade James Shields for a hitter in the trade deadline, and he questioned why Joe Maddon would start the struggling
Shields in the divisional showdown against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium several weeks ago.

Good thing he is just a guy with an opinion not a baseball manager or the president of a team’s baseball operations. If he ran or managed the Rays, they would not
be the team they are today.

Since the post All-Star Break, Shields won three straight games prior to his start against the Yankees on Sunday afternoon. His ERA was at 4.88 despite the winning streak, but disregard that for a second. Shields has gone deep in games, and he found the location to throw strikes in those three victories. Those are things Shields could not do in the first few months of the season.

Sunday’s performance showed Shields is back to being the bulldog pitcher the Rays expect him to be. He hit his spots well, and the Yankees had a hard time of finding a way to disrupt his change-up.

Shields started off well by pitching inside to Derek Jeter couple of times to start the game, getting newly acquired Lance Berkman out on two pitches and striking out Mark Teixeira with a heavy diet of fastball.

In the second inning, Shields ran into trouble. He gave up a couple of hits after getting Robinson Cano out, and just like that, Shields was in a jam with runners at first and third. Anyone think the Yankees were going to take the lead with two men on and one out?

No one could have blamed others for feeling that way, but Shields had other ideas. He struck out Curtis Granderson with a change-up, and Austin Kearns popped up meekly to end the threat.

This was the only opportunity the Yankees would get against Shields. After that, he shut the Yankees down for the rest of the day.

Shields was locked in from the third inning by being ahead of the count. At one point, he struck out six in a row.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi had a secret weapon waiting for Shields, and he used it in the seventh inning with one on and two outs. After intending to give Alex Rodriguez a day off just to get his mind off the home run milestone he is pursuing, here was Rodriguez with a chance not only to get that 600th home run of his career, but to give the momentum to the Yankees.

Instead, Rodriguez represented the 10th strikeout for Shields.

Shields could have went eight innings, but with his pitch count approaching 120,  Maddon elected to end his day with 116 pitches. The Rays starter finished the day by allowing four hits, striking out 11, and walking one in 7.1 innings.

The best way to describe this is dominance.

It was a vintage performance from Shields to say the least. It brought back memories from couple of years ago when he dominated the AL East teams.

Maddon mentioned this was the best performance he ever saw out of Shields. Maybe the Rays manager was caught up in the moment, but it’s hard to believe this was Shields’ best performance ever. Shields’ best performance came when he pitched a shutout against the Red Sox at Fenway Park couple of years ago in April. He blew the Red Sox away by throwing fastballs at every Red Sox hitter.

Shields’ recent starts have been encouraging, and if he can duplicate more performances like Sunday, the Rays’ starting rotation gets even better. The Rays have a good starting trio in David Price, Matt Garza, and Jeff Niemann. Shields makes it better with his postseason experience. He was the team’s best postseason pitcher couple of years ago.

With him, it’s all about confidence. If he can find his command of his pitches, he can go on a roll like he did Sunday afternoon.

Comparing his starts in May to his recent starts, there’s a change in demeanor. Shields was frustrated on the mound when he struggled. He was intimidated by the hitters at the time, but lately, that has not been the case. On Sunday, it was his turn to intimidate the Yankees.

It was hard to believe Shields would get back to the level he was two years ago. He looked done going back to last year. Teams figured him out by either homering off him
or hitting line drives off him, which inflated his ERA at either four or five. His fastball looked dead, and that’s his bread and butter pitch.

There were reasons to be concerned about him.

To Shields’ credit, his strikeouts were still there despite his struggles. He felt it was a matter of time until he got it together.  He finally mixed his change-up and fastball together, and that helped him to be successful again.

After seeing him in July and Sunday, it’s okay to call him Big Game James again.

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