Big news, Big Game

BOB ELLIOTT

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

ST. PETERSBURG -- We always look for news.

And we heard some three hours before the first pitch of Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.

Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona said: "Life in the AL East is difficult."

Oh really?

Has Francona heard about the Lindbergh baby?

Or that it's best to play 'em one game at a time ... even if your team has a day-night doubleheader scheduled?

Or the fact that Junior Felix voted against the Charlottetown Accord after a heated debate with Manny Lee?

As the only French-speaking manager in the majors, Francona was answering reporters' questions in English before last night's Tampa Bay Rays-Boston game. Rays right-hander "Big Game James" Shields was trying to shunt the defending champions to the sidelines. The real big-game starter was in the other dugout, yet Josh Beckett has not been the same since late in the season.

Boston was supposed to have been eliminated Thursday and it looked that way with seven outs remaining. Tampa Bay's bullpen recorded only six outs, while allowing eight runs in an 8-7 loss.

Francona was asked if the Rays and the Red Sox were forming a rivalry -- the in-season bench-clearing brawl between the two teams and now playing a memorable post-season series?

"It makes life in the AL East difficult," Francona said.

"We all know what the Yankees can do and are capable of doing. The Blue Jays have an unbelievable pitching staff and some injuries that kept their win total down this year."

"And then all of a sudden you've got another team (the Rays) that comes out and wins 97 games," Francona said. "We beat up on each other and it's hard.

"It makes life very difficult and it's not going to get easier because they're not going to go away."

This revelation that Tampa Bay is a pretty good team --aside from the fact that the Milwaukee Brewers, the Texas Rangers and the Rays have the best farm systems -- is bad news for the Blue Jays.

Big Game James Shields didn't earn his nickname pitching complete-game shutouts for the Rays, who never had won more than 70 games in a season before this year when they won the AL East with 97 wins.

Minor-league teammate Chris Flynn, a fan of Los Angeles Lakers forward "Big Game" James Worthy, hung the nickname on Shields as they moved together through the Rays system. Whether it was class-A, double-A or triple-A does not really matter.

It could have been that night in 2003 against the Modesto A's when James was supposed to throw 60 pitches for Bakersfield manager Oscar Munor and he went out and threw 75.

While Worthy averaged 21 points, shot 54% in the playoffs and was MVP of the 1988 NBA playoffs, Big Game James Shields was 32-29 making 90 starts in the minors in five years, walking 134 and striking out 484 men in 553 innings.

LIVED UP TO IT

Shields lived up to his nickname with a 99-pitch two-hit shutout over the Sox in April. He tossed a 93-pitch, one hitter against the Los Angeles Angels in May and in September, he threw 106 pitches in eight innings in a 7-1 win over the Yankees.

Big Game James started Game 1 of the AL Division Series, going 61/3 innings, allowing three-run homer to Dewayne Wise and was the winner thanks to two homers from Evan Longoria.

Shields worked Game 1 of the ALCS, allowing two runs in 71/3 innings as he was tagged with the defeat.

Who knew in the seventh inning of Game 5 that Shields would have a chance to live up to his nickname?

"Joe (Maddon, Rays manager) thought he had it won the other night," said a baseball executive.

"Tampa Bay relievers stick with one pitch. You can't be having 10-or-11 pitches an at-bat.

"The longer it goes with a guy throwing the same pitch, the better it is for the hitter.

"Joe should have gone to a left-hander to face David Ortiz up 7-1 in the seventh. It became 7-4 awful quickly. I'm not sure if the ball came down until the next day."

We do know for sure now that the AL East is tough.


Videos

Photos