Shields content with win against 'brothers'
Facing ex-Rays teammates for first time, KC ace throws six scoreless after shaky first
KANSAS CITY -- Elliot Johnson knows James Shields pretty well. After all, they were teammates for many years at Tampa Bay. He was watching from second base as Shields wavered in the first inning.
"I think he came out a little bit energetic, a little bit excited," Johnson said.
Not surprising. Shields had been with the Rays for seven years until they traded him, Johnson and Wade Davis to the Royals last winter.
"It was a little weird, but to be honest, once they stepped in the box, I had a little tunnel vision, and it was just kind of 'game on,'" Shields said.
"This is what I like to do. But it was definitely a lot of fun facing that team, a lot of good memories over there. It was a little weird seeing a Rays jersey across the field but it was a good game tonight."
It sure was a good game for Shields and the Royals, who took an 8-2 decision on Tuesday night in the series opener.
"It was different," the Rays' Desmond Jennings said. "I mean Shields, he's been in a Rays uniform his whole career, and it just looked a little different -- him standing out there, you know. Different uniform, same guy. He did what he had to do tonight."
After Jennings opened the game with a single, Matt Joyce followed with a two-run homer. Four of the first five Rays to bat reached base.
"He labored in the first, but really limited the damage," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "It could've been a lot worse -- held them to two, and that was it."
Finally, Shields banged out two strikeouts to end the first inning and got into a groove. From there on, the Rays got nothing.
"That was just vintage Shields," said David Price, a Shields buddy and the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner. "He was at 48 pitches through two innings, and he needed 60 more to get through the next five. That's just James Shields."
And that was a slight exaggeration. Shields finished his seven innings with just 102 pitches. Relievers Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland secured his second victory with one scoreless inning each.
Shields downplayed the idea that he was ultra-hyped for the Rays.
"To be honest, I was just as hyped up in the first inning as I was every single game. I felt I made some pretty good pitches in the first inning. Obviously, the one pitch was a bad pitch to Joyce, but I fell behind in the count. There's nothing else I can really do right there. But I felt I was fine."
Even after the Rays got to Shields for two first-inning runs, their manager, Joe Maddon, conceded he was worried.
"I've seen so many times when he's given up two in the first or the second inning, and that's all the other team would get, so I was concerned at that point," Maddon said.
Although the Royals were emotionally invested in boosting Shields in his first time out against the Rays, the pitcher himself gave Mike Moustakas credit for changing the atmosphere with a two-run homer in the sixth to stagger Rays starter Alex Cobb. That put the Royals ahead to stay.
"When Moose hit that home run -- he's been struggling all year long to really get it going -- that's the inning that got us going," Shields said.
Still, he recognized that the Royals were giving him extra support.
"The guys had my back, they always do," Shields said. "That's what this team is all about. We're real resilient. We've had a couple losses, and we fought back hard tonight. I've said it before: We've got a lot of character on this team, and it showed again tonight."
As far as spending time with his former teammates, Shields had a brief chat with Price before the game but once on the field, he kept his distance.
"I didn't talk to anybody," Shields said. "Cobb kind of met me out in center field a little bit, and I kind of said 'good luck' to him, but I didn't really talk too much before the game."
When it was over, Shields had held his old team to two runs, five hits and one walk in seven innings. He notched seven strikeouts. And he'd won.
"It's very satisfying," he said. "I know every one of those guys like the back of my hand over there, and I've got a lot of brothers on that team. I definitely wanted to win this game tonight. Obviously, we'd lost two in a row, and I wanted to come back and get a win for us."
And all through the evening, as Shields continued to mow down the Rays, there were strange feelings in the Tampa Bay dugout.
"Of course there were," Maddon said. "But it was still blue and white, number 33. I saw the same delivery. It was just unfortunate that it didn't work out for us tonight. He's going to be very good here. He's going to pitch very well. He is very good. He's young and he's a great competitor."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.