ST. PETERSBURG How well has James Shields pitched this season? Evan Longoria has an answer.
"If we were any better offensively the whole year he'd probably have 20 wins by now," Longoria said.
Shields was at it again Monday, firing another complete-game in the Rays 5-1 victory against the Rangers in front of a Labor Day crowd of 13,130.
Shields, who has a major league-best 11 complete games, became the first pitcher since Randy Johnson in 1999 to throw that many complete games in the major leagues and the first since Scott Erickson in 1998 to throw that many for an American League team.
Getting old, right?
"It definitely doesn't feel routine for me," Shields said. "I'm definitely as excited about this one as I was the first one of the year."
Had the Rangers not scratched out a ninth-inning run with the help of a leadoff walk by Shields, than Shields would have turned his fifth shutout of the season.
As it was, Shields tied his career-high with his 14th win, set in 2008.
"It feels pretty good, especially with four games to go," he said. "It's a lot of hard work, a lot of hard work put into this season. I'm not done yet."
With his first inning strikeout of Josh Hamilton, Shields joined Scott Kazmir as the only Tampa Bay pitchers to record 200 strikeouts in one season. Add those strikeouts to his 11 complete-games and Shields is the first major league pitcher with that many strikeouts and more than 10 complete-games since CC Sabathia in 2008. Since Sabathia did that while pitching for Cleveland and Milwaukee that season, you have to go back to Johnson in 1993 to find the last American League pitcher to pull off that impressive feat.
"And he's still relatively young," manager Joe Maddon said. "He's growing into this moment and he's pretty much in his sweet spot as a starting pitcher goes. When you get to 28 (years old), 29 and your early 30s you can hit your sweet spot where you're able to physically maintain and then combine that with your knowledge. I think at that age things come together for a pitcher, and at that point they are able to show you absolutely what they are capable of doing."
That ninth inning run snapped a 23-inning scoreless streak for Shields, which is now the longest in team history, which surpassed the 21 straight reliever Joe Borowski tossed in 2005 and matched earlier this season by Shields.
Shields has allowed one run or less in 15 of his 29 starts and has a 0.68 ERA in his 14 victories.
Not bad for someone who wanted to bounce back from a poor 2010 and who told Maddon this season he would like the opportunity to finish a few games.
"It's more than a bounce back year, it's a career-year to him," Longoria said. "It's probably a really pleasant experience for him to do that he's doing, and I hope it continues for him. I really don't see his talent going anywhere. He prepares himself so well. I think he's figured out how to pitch, use his stuff to become a premier pitcher now, moving forward, I don't think he's going to forget how to do that."
Shields finished with 124 pitches. He needed 18 to get through the ninth. He got Adrian Beltre to fly out to right field to end the game after an eight-pitch at-bat. Maddon said Beltre was going to be Shields's final batter. That Maddon let Shields go that long is a testament to Shields's ability to finish games.
Allowing a pitcher to throw that many pitchers goes against Maddon's philosophy, but Maddon said Shields had a lot of easy innings so he didn't have a stressful outing. Also, Maddon said Shields is developing into a pitcher who should be allowed to finish what he's started.
"I think it's important to him to build his confidence and let him become one of the premier starting pitchers in baseball. I don't want to get in the way of that either," Maddon said. "It's a fine line you walk, and with a guy like him, his workout ability and his ability to take care of himself permits you to let that occur."