NEW YORK -- James Shields has the deepest admiration for his old friend Josh Hamilton, going back to when they were selected by the then Devil Rays in back-to-back Drafts.
But during a visit to the MLB Fan Cave on Wednesday along with David Price and Sean Rodriguez, Shields said there was no way Hamilton would have hit four out in a game against the Rays.
"I wouldn't have pitched to him after three home runs," Shields said. "You give up three home runs in one game, I don't think I'm going to pitch to him the fourth or the fifth time."
Hamilton hit his first two homers Tuesday off Orioles starter Jake Arietta, then his third off left-hander Zach Phillips. In the eighth inning, Hamilton faced former Rangers teammate Darren O'Day, and on an 0-2 count, O'Day threw an 83-mph sinker right into Hamilton's wheelhouse. The Rangers had one out and a man on first, with an 8-1 lead at the time O'Day served up No. 4.
"I mean, you never know, it depends on the situation," Shields added when reminded that it likely would have been a Rays reliever in that situation had he allowed the first two or three. "It could have been like first and second, with two outs, but I'd still be pitching around him."
Hamilton was Tampa Bay's first-round pick in 1999 (No. 1 overall), and Shields was drafted in the 16th round a year later. In 2001, they both played briefly for the Class A Charleston club in the South Atlantic League. Hamilton's drug addictions surfaced and he was out of baseball from '03-05, then reaching the Majors with Cincinnati in 2007, the same year Shields began his streak of five consecutive years (entering this one) with at least 200 innings pitched for Tampa Bay.
"I mean, it's amazing. I've known Hamilton since he got drafted," Shields said of the four-homer game, still abuzz around baseball. "He was with us obviously for a long time. I know him pretty well. He's one of my favorite baseball players out there. Really nice guy, I'm really happy for him. The four home runs last night, that's unbelievable. That's awesome."
Shields said he was at Yankee Stadium to see Hamilton's legendary performance during the 2008 State Farm Home Run Derby, watching it after a trip to Cleveland ended the Rays' first half that year.
"Yeah, I was there. I've been seeing him do that since he was 18 years old, and nothing surprises me," Shields said. "I've been seeing him hit 500-foot homers since he was 18. He's an incredible athlete. As far as raw talent, he's got to be up there with one of the best."
Shields and Price had been to the Fan Cave last year, taping a spoof video of a typical TV law-firm commercial. This time, they brought along their shortstop-third baseman, who jumped at the chance to fly down the big orange tube slide, the one the nine Cave Dwellers slide down every time someone hits a home run -- including the four trips a night earlier for those Hamilton blasts.
"Glad Andrew didn't see that," joked Shields, referring to Andrew Friedman, the Rays' executive director of baseball operations.
"Just hoping I brought a lot of home run slides with us," Rodriguez said. "It was definitely fun. You've got to use the [burlap] bag, it makes it a lot faster."
The trio began their Cave visit by playing the State Farm Home Run Derby Challenge on the "MLB 12 The Show" video game upstairs, first choosing a charity (Boys & Girls Clubs of America) and then each getting five outs with every home run worth $200 to that charity. They totaled $1,200, then signed the big check and posed with it. Price used Evan Longoria as his batter (deciding to pass over Hamilton), Shields went with Miguel Cabrera, then Rodriguez used Prince Fielder.
All three players mingled with the Cave Dwellers, did interviews with MLB Network and FOX, and talked about how the Rays are faring one-fifth of the way through their schedule. Shields had just dropped his first decision of the season a night earlier at Yankee Stadium and is now 5-1, and the Rays remain on top of the American League East with a 19-11 record following three consecutive losses.
"Winning the series -- that's what we've been doing all season long, winning the series," Shields said. "That's where we want to be. Obviously every team wants to get better, there's always room to improve. But so far, so good."
"The first quarter of our season, I feel like it has gone fairly well," Price said. "We've had some injuries here in the last week or so, and that's tough, but that's every team in the Major Leagues. We've got to find a way to get through it, and that's what we're doing right now. We've been playing some pretty good baseball against some of the AL's best teams. So if we can continue to play the way we're playing right now, I think we'll be all right."
Rodriguez added: "We've got some guys going down -- Longo, big shoes to fill, Desmond [Jennings] at the top of the order -- but that's how championship teams win championships, you've got to be battle-tested. That's what we're doing right now. We're leaning on each other, and doing a good job of that."