I had never heard James Shields reffered to as “Big Game James” prior to this afternoon, but the Rays starter didn’t give me any opportunity to snicker at it. Shields handily outdueled C.C. Sabathia and led the Rays to a clean 3-0 win, and bringing them to within a game of the AL East lead. Sometimes I miss the Devil Rays of my youth.
The Yankees weren’t lifeless, but they only managed to scrape together 5 hits and, tellingly, one walk against Shields, while Sabathia was solid but not at his best – and it would’ve taken his best to compete against Shields, whose changeup baffled most of the Yanks all afternoon. New York wasn’t helped by Girardi’s odd choice to start Lance Berkman at first base over Mark Texeira, and the defensive downgrade cost the Yanks at several points, but given Shields’ great game it probably didn’t matter in the end. Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez sat out today, to give him a mental and physical break, but I can’t really quibble with that call. And he made a dramatic pinch-hit appearance in the 7th… believe me, if he’d hit one out, you’d have heard about it. So that storyline continues, god help us, but at least Lance Berkman’s 0-for-his-Yankee-career slide ended a day after it began, with a sixth-inning single.
Sabathia chugged along steadily into the 7th inning, but after he climbed over 100 pitches Girardi pulled him for Newest Yankee Kerry Wood – who made a good first impression by striking out Evan Longoria with a nasty little curveball. I really hope one day I’ll be able to look at Wood and see a reliever with good stuff instead of a symbol of sky-high expectations unfulfilled, but I think it’s going to take a while. In the 8th Wood got two outs (thanks in part to Jason Bartlett’s bunting strikeout, which I imagine has to be one of the worst feelings in baseball) but also loaded the bases, and was replaced by… Chad Gaudin? A baffling decision in a pretty close game, if you ask me, which nobody did. But he struck out Reid Brignac, so no harm no foul, I suppose.
Shields came out after recording one out in the 8th, and was replaced by Chad Qualls; but even against Qualls, the bane of many a fantasy team this year (to say nothing of the actual Diamondbacks), the Yankees couldn’t do a thing. Lance Berkman grounded into a double play, and Qualls lowered his ERA to a shiny 8.15. It’s tough dropping a series to the team breathing down your neck in a division race, but the Rays are a very good team and the games were close- plus there’s a bit of breathing room in the Wild Card race – so there’s no reason for alarm. Still, if the Rays don’t scare you this year, you haven’t been paying attention.
* I of course had, however, heard Lance Berkman referred to as “Big Puma,” which prompted me to head for baseball-reference.com and look up all the Major Leaguers who’ve had “Big” nicknames. It’s quite a list. By my count there have been no less than 17 players nicknamed Big Bill, and 18 Big Eds. In addition to the well-known Big Train, Big Unit, Big Mac, Big Papi, Big Hurt, Big Poison, and both Big Cats, there’s been Big Six, Big Bow, Big Donkey, Big Daddy, The Big Bear, Big Murph, Big Country, and more, including Big Ebbie, who also, to my delight, was known as “Steam Engine in Boots.” You’re welcome.