”That’s a team over that knows me real well,” Shields said.
Turns out Shields knows them even better.
After allowing a two-run homer to Matt Joyce in the first, Shields only allowed three more hits over the next six innings. That kept the Royals in the game long enough for Mike Moustakas to hit a go-ahead two-run homer and spur Kansas City to an 8-2 victory over Tampa Bay in the series opener.
”It was pretty obvious the emotion was really, really high,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. ”James has really bonded with his teammates, and I think his teammates knew how big of a game it was for him.”
Kansas City has been looking for a legitimate No. 1 starter for years, and finally made the bold decision in December to acquire Shields and fellow right-hander Wade Davis from Tampa Bay for a package of prospects that included minor league player of the year Wil Myers.
The Rays’ career leader in just about every significant pitching category, Shields (2-2) hasn’t done anything to disappoint his new organization. He lost 1-0 to the White Sox on opening day, tossed a complete game in a 3-2 loss to Toronto, and has gone at least six innings in every start.
On Tuesday night, he helped the Royals snap a two-game skid and finish 14-10 in April, a dramatic improvement from the 6-15 mark that they carried into May a year ago.
”He looked a little different standing out there in a different uniform,” said the Rays’ Desmond Jennings. ”He was mixing up his pitches – he was Shields. He’s good, man.”
Early on, Shields may have been too amped up facing his former team.
Jennings singled off his first pitch and Joyce followed with his homer over the right-field wall. It was the 15th straight game in which Tampa Bay hit a home run, tying the franchise record.
”The first hit of the game, a little check-swing by Des, and I fell behind the count against Joyce, and you can’t do that,” Shields said. ”I knew I had to grind it out.”
Meanwhile, Alex Cobb (3-2) was keeping the Royals’ scuffling offense at bay.
The Rays’ starter allowed just four hits over the first five innings, and at one point, the only ball hit out of the infield over a span of 12 batters was a measly single by Elliott Johnson.
”He threw the ball great for them, mixing his pitches,” Moustakas said. ”One inning, you know, kind of turned the game around for us.”
That inning came in the sixth.
Cobb had retired the first two batters Eric Hosmer doubled and Lorenzo Cain drove him in with a single, snapping the Royals’ streak of 15 consecutive scoreless innings.
Moustakas then connected against Cobb over the right-field fence for his first homer since Sept. 14, a span of 129 at-bats. Jeff Francoeur followed with a double and Salvador Perez’s RBI single made it 4-2. Cobb was lifted when Johnson singled again, ending his night after 5 2-3 innings.
”When I walked off the mound, I think that was the most angry I’ve ever been after a game,” said Cobb, who pitched into the ninth inning against the Yankees his last time out. ”I felt like from pitch number-one, I was going to have a smooth, easy-sailing game and go as deep as I could.”
Cobb wound up allowing four runs on 10 hits.
”It fell apart very quickly and that was unusual to see,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. ”Shields was really good. Cobb was outstanding to that moment.”
The Royals built a cushion in the seventh off Rays reliever Brandon Gomes. Moustakas hit a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded, and Hosmer scored from third when Cain stole second and catcher Jose Molina threw the ball into center field.
Francoeur followed with an RBI triple, giving the Royals a 7-2 lead and Shields the rest of the night off. The Kansas City bullpen pitched two scoreless innings to finish things up.
”The guys had my back – they always do – and that’s what this team is all about,” Shields said. ”We’re real resilient. We had a couple of tough losses, but we fought back hard tonight. We have a lot of character on this team and we showed it again tonight.”
— Associated Press —