CHICAGO -- Angels pitcher Scot Shields has what's known in the business as a "rubber arm.'' For a middle reliever that's a euphemism for, "Thanks for all your hard work and effort, kid. Here's $925,000. Have fun setting up, and hopefully you'll have a semblance of a rotator cuff left when a closer's job opens up somewhere else.''
Lots of guys chafe over pitching the seventh or eighth inning with only a thank you and a bunch of "holds'' for validation. But Shields, 30, revels in bridging the gap from the Los Angeles starters to closer Francisco Rodriguez.
Here's how much: He broke Minnie Rojas' club record with 78 appearances this season, and he's led all major-league relievers with an aggregate 197 innings over the past two years. Home games. Road games. Bobblehead days. Refrigerator Magnet Nights. It doesn't matter. Shields signed up to pitch, so he shows up every game ready to go.
Shields is so physically unimposing at 6-1 and 170 pounds, there's something almost freakish about his stamina. At Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee, he set an NCAA Division II record by pitching 16 innings against conference rival Montevallo. More amazing, as he once told the Orange County Register, he threw a total of 261 pitches in the start.
More amazingly than that, he never even iced. You can take all the ice Scot Shields applies to his elbow and shoulder from February through October, and it wouldn't make a decent frozen margarita.
"He kind of defines what a pitcher is supposed to do,'' said teammate Darin Erstad. "The thing is, he's never in the training room. For whatever reason, he's been given a gift to do that. I don't think the guy's arm has ever been sore. And I'm sure if it was sore, he wouldn't tell us anyway.''
Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia relies a lot on his bullpen even in the best of times, so you know he needs all the gap-bridging help he can get this week. Bartolo Colon, the Angels' No. 1 starter, is out for the American League Championship Series with a shoulder injury, and Jarrod Washburn is scheduled to pitch Game 2 despite a strep throat that had him sounding raspy and looking gaunt Tuesday.
"We told him to put a mask over his mouth,'' said teammate Paul Byrd.
At the moment, the only thing contagious in the Los Angeles clubhouse is winning. The Angels, who played a league-high 59 one-run games this season, exercised their specialty again in the AL Championship Series opener. Byrd threw six effective innings, Shields and Rodriguez did the rest, and the Angels won 3-2 to take a 1-0 series lead before 40,659 at U.S. Cellular Field.
The last time this many American males bonded through sleep deprivation, Otter Stratton was taking his Delta House buddies on a road trip. The Angels had to get downright creative in finding ways to catch an hour or two of rest over the weekend. As center fielder Steve Finley pointed out, the L.A. players got some great sleep on the five-hour flight from New York to Anaheim on Sunday night. Or was it Monday night?
"As long as there are three seats to lay down on, you can catch a few Z's,'' Finley said.
Still, the Angels couldn't help but feel a bit woozy before the series opener with Chicago. The two hours and 47 minutes Tuesday were the longest they'd spent in recent memory: a) not playing the Yankees; or b) not sitting on a tarmac.
"I was kind of foggy for the first four or five innings, then I really started to get into the game,'' Erstad said. "It's not like I was out there spaced out. But we had gone through a lot of high intensity and mental exhaustion the last few games, and sometimes it can be tough to get it going.''
It had been an interesting few days for Shields, to be sure. He usually doesn't get much credit when the Angels win. But after he surrendered a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning of Los Angeles' Game 4 loss to New York on Sunday, he was quick to assume his share of the blame.
"Taking that loss was pretty hard, especially making us travel all the way back to California,'' Shields said. "I don't know if there was anybody happier than me when we won, because that took a lot of pressure off me.''
The brief trip home to Anaheim didn't provide much of a respite. Shields was snoozing after the all-night flight from New York to Anaheim on Monday morning when his daughter Kayla, 3, jostled him at 8 a.m. and said, "It's wakeup time.'' So he assumed his fatherly duties, mixed in a little playtime, then collapsed for another hour or two.
Shields enjoyed a rare day off in the series finale against the Yankees, but not of his own volition. He was prepared to crank it up from the outset, and was even more adamant about pitching when Colon unexpectedly went down in the second inning.
"I can give you four,'' he told Scioscia and pitching coach Bud Black.
The Angels didn't need Shields in their clinching 5-3 win over New York on Monday, in part because rookie Ervin Santana came through with 5 1/3 emergency innings. But you knew it was just a temporary breather.
Byrd, the crafty Kelsey Grammer-lookalike, confounded the White Sox for six innings with a mix of 85-mph fastballs and offspeed stuff. It looked like he might go awhile after dispatching the Sox on five pitches in the sixth.
But after Byrd plunked Aaron Rowand to lead off the seventh, Scioscia signaled for his workhorse. Shields quickly worked out of the inning, then allowed only a bloop single to Jermaine Dye in the eighth before retiring the dangerous Paul Konerko on a routine fly ball to center.
After the game, Shields half-jokingly recalled how he "hit a wall'' and started dozing in the bullpen in the third inning. But he refused to rely on coffee to keep himself upright.
"I don't drink coffee,'' he said. "Just a couple of cokes, and strap it on.''
And make sure to hold the ice.