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Having won their last nine games by a combined 47 runs, the Red Sox were on a roll heading into Tuesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Then they faced James Shields, and everything rolled to a halt.
Shields pitched a complete-game shutout, holding the Red Sox to just five hits, and left fielder Justin Ruggiano hit a fifth-inning home run off Tim Wakefield to help beat the Red Sox, 4-0, and hand Boston its first loss during this road trip.
Shields’ command alone might have been enough to beat the Red Sox Tuesday night. He threw 110 pitches, 72 for strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of 32 batters faced, giving up just five hits – all singles – and three walks. He retired the Red Sox 1-2-3 four times, including in the top of the ninth, and got the Red Sox to ground into three double plays.
When he wasn’t throwing over the plate, Shields used his sharply breaking change-up to fool Red Sox hitters. He struck out five, including Jarrod Saltalamacchia twice, often using an off-speed pitch out of the strike zone that the Red Sox could neither lay off of nor hit. Shields caused 12 swings-and-misses, and all of them looked ugly.
No one had a tougher time with Shields than Kevin Youkilis, who entered Tuesday’s game batting just .162 off Shields in 41 appearances. He struck Youkilis out with two men on and one gone in the first, then got him to ground into two double plays in the third and sixth. Youkilis finished the game 0-4.
The only Boston hitter to have success off Shields was Adrian Gonzalez, who went 3-4, all singles. However, Youkilis promptly erased both Gonzalez’s second and third hits with double plays.
The Red Sox best scoring opportunity came in the first inning. Ellsbury led off with a walk and went to third on a one-out single by Gonzalez. After Youkils struck out, Shields walked David Ortiz to load the bases.
On came former Ray Carl Crawford, whom the Tampa Bay crowd greeted with both a standing ovation and a smattering of loud boos. Crawford grounded out to first to end the inning and finished the game 0-3 with a strikeout.
Wakefield matched Shields for the first four innings, retiring the Rays 1-2-3 in the bottom of the first and getting a double play in the second. But with one down in the fifth, Ruggiano (2-4 with a strikeout) slammed a first-pitch knuckleball that stayed up in the zone just inside the left-field foul pole for the 1-0 lead.
Wakefield lost some of his command after Ruggiano’s home run. He walked four batters in the fifth through seventh innings, as opposed to just one through the first four. He threw first-pitch balls to five of the 12 batters he faced after the HR.
The Rays tacked on another run in the sixth. Evan Longoria drew a one-out walk, then took second on a passed ball by Saltalamacchia. Longoria reached third on a fielder’s choice, then scored on a second passed ball by Saltalamacchia.
Wakefield’s knuckleball didn’t quite have the finish that it’s capable of. When Wakefield would get to two strikes, he couldn’t use it to put the Rays away. He struck out just two, both in the seventh inning, and only one using the knuckleball.
Tommy Hottovy struggled in relief of Wakefield, giving up a double, a hit-batter and an RBI single to first baseman Casey Kotchman (2-3 with a walk) before exiting with none out in the top of the eighth. Alfredo Aceves gave up an RBI broken-bat single to catcher John Jaso that was also charged to Hottovy to make it 4-0 Rays.
Wakefield finished the game going seven innings, giving up two runs (one earned) on four hits, five walks and two strikeouts. Normally, a start like that would likely earn both the Red Sox and him a win. Wakefield gave the Red Sox a quality start Tuesday night, but unfortunately it just wasn’t quite the same quality as Shields’.
Tags: Adrian Gonzalez, Alfredo Aceves, Boston Red Sox, Carl Crawford, Casey Kotchman, David Ortiz, Evan Longoria, J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, James Shields, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, John Jaso, Justin Ruggiano, Kevin Youkilis, MLB, Tampa Bay Rays, Tim Wakefield, Tommy Hottovy