OAKLAND -- Consider July 31 an outlier.
That's likely the way the A's will view it, after being shut out for the first time in the month -- and first time since June 3 -- by the Rays, following a miraculous 30-day stretch that placed Oakland in playoff contention.
The A's 8-0 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday in no way takes away from a July that will still go down in franchise history as the best there ever was. Their 19-5 record in the month equated to a .792 winning percentage, surpassing a previous high of .788, achieved in 1931 by the Philadelphia A's.
"Broke a franchise record, that's pretty good," manager Bob Melvin said. "I don't think I've been on any teams that have had the success we had this month. We move on to the next month, you try to carry the momentum from this month to next month. Understand that we played very well to get where we are, and a lot of it happened this month."
Despite the defeat, the A's still sit just 3 1/2 games back of the division-leading Rangers. Their Major League-leading 12th shutout loss of the season came at the hands of a superb pitching performance from righty James Shields, who tossed his first complete game of the year -- after throwing 11 in 2011 -- and 17th of his career.
Shields, whose name ran rampant in trade rumors in the weeks leading up to Tuesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline, allowed just three hits for a Rays club that has to feel good about keeping him.
"I was in control of everything tonight," Shields said. "I was in control of all of my pitches and that's what pitching is all about, if you attack the strike zone and throw a lot of strikes."
"He was doing different things to different people," said Seth Smith, who went hitless in four at-bats. "That was my first time facing him, but everyone was saying he had a good changeup going into the game, and he really does. What I think he did well tonight was just keeping balls out of the middle of the plate and was able to get ahead. I faced him four times, and he threw only one good pitch to hit, and that was the last one. So anytime you can get ahead with strikes without throwing anything to hit, you're going to be OK."
The righty retired 14 straight at one point, ultimately utilizing 98 pitches in a winning effort that included 11 strikeouts and zero walks, marking the third straight start he has reached double-digits in strikeouts. This coming one night after the A's combined for 21 strikeouts through a wild 15-inning affair that resulted in Oakland's 12th walk-off victory of the season.
The combined 32 strikeouts in 24 innings present a hint of concern for a club that had been swinging away with more success as of late, but Melvin was quick to offer a reminder that Shields, like Monday starter David Price, is a strikeout pitcher.
"Boy, he had a great changeup," Melvin said. "He was getting ahead and going to a very good changeup that looks just like his fastball.
"I think we're going to strike out some. The last couple nights we faced really good pitching. We're probably going to have to look to make some adjustments, cut down our swings some, because we've been hitting a lot of balls out of the ballpark here recently, and I think to an extent you'll get caught up in that at times. But we also have some dangerous hitters that if you make a mistake, we can make you pay."
But on this night, Oakland's bats proved fatigued from the 15-inning marathon, as there was no support for lefty starter Tommy Milone, who allowed five earned runs for the second straight start. The southpaw gave up seven hits through six innings in the loss, six of which were singles. Yet, four of them in the sixth contributed to three runs, following a two-run third.
It marked the first time in nine starts at the Coliseum that Milone -- who entered the day 5-1 with a 0.91 ERA at home -- allowed more than two earned runs. Moreover, he had only given up two just once.
"Just fell behind hitters, gave them a chance to put the ball in play," said Milone, who was working with new A's catcher George Kottaras for the first time. "I told myself, I'm not trying to strike people out. My goal is to get ahead of hitters and expand the zone, keep the ball low, and I was throwing pitches up in the zone and they were capitalizing on them.
"Strike one is a pretty big pitch for me, and when I don't get that, I got to come back and make a good pitch and sometimes that doesn't work out, so then you're in a deeper hole just battling. It just didn't work out today."
As for the month, the A's did all right.