ARLINGTON -- All the pieces felt like they were falling into place for the Rays to claim a commanding two-game lead in their American League Division Series with the Rangers.
Instead, the fourth inning came and went, as did the Rays' chances in an 8-6 loss Saturday night at Rangers Ballpark that evened the series at one game each. Oddly, the Rays and Rangers have now played seven playoff games against each other in the past two years, and Saturday night's brought the first win for the home team.
"Of course you would prefer 2-0," manager Joe Maddon said. "Of course. Everybody would. That's stupid. But to go back 1-1, we will take it right now."
Tampa Bay already had won the first game of the series -- and on Texas' home turf -- so the pressure rested squarely on the Rangers' shoulders to find a way to win. In addition, the Rays had built a 3-0 lead and they had ace James Shields on the mound with the wind at his back after notching three scoreless innings. In Shields' previous two starts against the Rangers, he had allowed just one earned run over 17 innings
The Rays had built a string of 20 consecutive unanswered runs after Matt Joyce's two-run homer in the fourth put Tampa Bay up, 3-0, but that streak would meet its end in the bottom half of the inning.
Shields hit leadoff hitter Elvis Andrus before Josh Hamilton and Michael Young followed with singles to load the bases with no outs. Inexplicably, Shields then hit Adrian Beltre to mint the Rangers' first run. Mike Napoli singled home two more, and the Rays were smack in the middle of a situation.
Shields continued to struggle, delivering a wild pitch that moved the runners to second and third. Suddenly, nothing seemed to work for Shields. First, he appeared to retired David Murphy on a swinging bunt, which was ruled foul though replays suggested otherwise. Then he struck out Murphy, but even that managed to backfire.
Murphy went down swinging for what should have been the second out of the inning. Instead, the pitch turned into Shields' second wild pitch of the inning, which allowed Murphy to reach first and allowed the Rangers' fourth run to cross the plate. Mitch Moreland then grounded out to shortstop to score Napoli from third and put Texas up 5-3.
"If I get that guy out, if I get Andrus out, it's a whole different ballgame," said Shields, who hit just five batters all season. "I didn't do my job, bottom line. Fellas did a good job of getting a three-run lead for me, and the Rangers ended up capitalizing on some mistake pitches they hit. And this is a team we can't make mistakes against."
Shields finally got chased after allowing singles to Napoli and Nelson Cruz to start the sixth. Jake McGee took over, and pinch-hitter Craig Gentry greeted him with a sacrifice bunt. The rookie left-hander then hit Moreland to load the bases for Ian Kinsler.
Maddon called to the bullpen for Juan Cruz, but the right-hander couldn't stop the bleeding. Kinsler doubled to right to drive home two runs and put the Rangers up 7-3.
"It was only a matter of time before our offense broke through," Murphy said. "Shields is a great pitcher and he's had a great year, so it was good to finally break through against him. Obviously we didn't want to go back to Tampa Bay 0-2, and it was tough being down 3-0 early. But this team has always shown it is resilient, so I knew were going to break through."
Tampa Bay pitchers hit three batters and threw two wild pitches. Just one other team -- the Tigers in Game 4 of the 1987 AL Championship Series -- has hit three batters and also thrown two wild pitches in a game in the playoffs.
Shields, who threw 117 pitches over 8 2/3 innings against the Yankees on Monday in claiming his 16th win of the season, said the high pitch count had nothing to do with Saturday night's performance.
"No, no," Shields said. "I felt really good out there. My [velocity] was up there. That first three innings I was really feeling my delivery. I hit Andrus and things just started rolling [the wrong way] for me in the fourth inning. I made some bad pitches and they capitalized on them."
Despite Tampa Bay's change of fortunes, it never sacked the bats.
Desmond Jennings drew a leadoff walk against Koji Uehara to start the seventh. B.J. Upton followed with a single to left to bring Evan Longoria to the plate, and the Rays slugger responded with a 415-foot homer that cut the lead to 7-6.
Moreland answered with a 393-foot homer off Brandon Gomes in the eighth to give the Rangers a two-run cushion heading into the ninth.
Tampa Bay's loss snapped a six-game winning streak. In addition, the loss also snapped a streak of 31 straight wins when the Rays have scored five or more runs. The Rays will now fly home and prepare for Games 3 and 4 at Tropicana Field.
"We'll have an off-day tomorrow, try to catch our breath," Maddon said. "This is probably our, what, 20th playoff game we've had already this year and counting?"
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.