posted 8 years ago
Every matchup with the Red Sox this year felt like a playoff game for James Shields, with all that was on the line. Now that he has a chance at the real thing for the Rays in their American League Championship Series opener Friday night, Shields has some extra intensity to channel.Once again, Shields will be pitching a series opener for the Rays at Tropicana Field, where the 26-year-old right-hander has been dominant this year. Not only did he go 9-2 in 17 home starts this year, his 2.59 ERA ranked third-best among AL starters at home this year. That included two wins in as many tries against the Red Sox, one of them a two-hit shutout April 27.
A packed home crowd is an extremely intense atmosphere for someone who has been an intense pitcher throughout his brief career, big crowds or small. What Rays manager Joe Maddon likes about his staff ace, though, is his veteran-like ability to make that energy work in his favor over the last couple years. Given Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka's 9-0 record on the road this year, including Boston's only win in nine tries at Tropicana Field, Shields likely has a duel on his hands. Somebody's dominance is going to have to give.
Shields is focused on not letting it be his. This is the matchup he wants.
"It seemed like every single series we played Boston this year was like a playoff game, whether they came to our yard or we were at Fenway," Shields said. "It's a playoff atmosphere when we play each other, and that's great. I think these are the two teams that need to play each other right now."