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Again, no walk in the park

Shields's Fenway struggles continue

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / April 8, 2009
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Believe it or not, despite the 10.12 career ERA at Fenway Park he carried to the mound yesterday, despite the .360 batting average he had allowed Red Sox hitters in three regular-season starts in Boston, and despite the nagging fact that he didn't win any of those starts, James Shields doesn't hate Fenway.

"I like the atmosphere," Shields said. "I like the crowd. I like facing one of the best teams in baseball."

But it's hard to believe Fenway feels the same way about Shields.

He took the ball again yesterday and gave up five earned runs on nine hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings. Toronto's Roy Halladay and Florida's Ricky Nolasco also gave up five runs in their Opening Day starts Monday and got wins. But Shields was at Fenway, and his effort wasn't good enough as the Rays fell, 5-3.

"The baseball gods," Shields said, shrugging and grinning in front of his locker as he searched for a reason for his Fenway struggles. "That's the only thing I can think of. I try my best. I try as hard as I can every time I pitch. Every time I go out there it seems to be not my way in Fenway."

His catcher doesn't have an explanation, either.

"It's weird," said Dioner Navarro. "Who knows? It's hard to say."

His manager is equally perplexed.

"I really don't have a real good answer for that because he pitches much better at our place," said Joe Maddon. "It's just a Fenway situation right now."

Shields faced seven batters in the first inning. By the time Mike Lowell came to the plate, three of them were still on base. Shields got Lowell to pop up in front of home plate to avoid any real carnage. He gave up one run in the inning on Dustin Pedroia's home run two rows deep into the Monster seats, a pitch Shields wanted to throw down and away.

"It leaked over the plate a little bit," he said.

It wound up down and in, then long and gone.

Shields walked Pedroia on four pitches to start the third inning, then found himself in a first-and-third jam after a Kevin Youkilis single. From there, the dominoes (a J.D. Drew ground out, a Jason Bay RBI single, and a Lowell RBI double off the Wall) started falling, and the Rays were in a 4-1 hole.

A lefthanded homer from Jason Varitek with one out in the sixth brought Maddon to the mound for the third time in the afternoon, ending Shields's day.

"I feel like I pitched pretty well," Shields said. "Just bad luck. These guys are good hitters over here and they hit almost every single hole you could possibly hit today."

Maddon couldn't point to a specific issue either, saying his righthander was "just off."

"I think overall Shieldsy wasn't as sharp as he could be," he said. "But once again he gives you that opportunity [to win]."

Rays left fielder Carl Crawford didn't fuss much over Shields's outing.

"We know Shields is going to be all right," said Crawford. "He's a competitor, so he's always competing on the mound. Today just wasn't his day, but we know he's going to bounce back and come back strong."

"There's going to be a lot of games like that against the Red Sox this year," Maddon said. "It was another typical game like this in this ballpark, they outpitched us today.

"It's good. It's good for the baseball soul."

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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