Shields continues to eat innings in wins
Back-to-back home runs supply offense to back right-hander
ST. PETERSBURG -- James Shields eats innings like Joey Chestnut eats hot dogs.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Rays' right-hander almost got his belly full while picking up his ninth victory of the season in a 4-3 win over the A's in front of a crowd of 23,437.
The win gave the Rays their 20th series win of the season (including 18 of their last 25), matching the most series wins in club history. In addition, the win gave them two series wins in two tries since returning from the All-Star break.
"It's big," said Shields of the series wins. "We need to win series from here on out. Boston and the Yankees don't look like they're going away any time soon, so we just have to keep our nose to the field and keep trying to win some games."
Shields is all about logging innings and there is nothing he values more than taking the team deep into the game. The 26-year-old right-hander worked a team-high 215 innings in 2007 and is well on his way to the 200-inning plateau again in 2008. Wednesday's outing moved him to 138 1/3 innings in 21 starts this season.
"I'm right where I need to be," Shields said. "I've been throwing some really good games this year. I have a dozen quality starts. I think I've been pitching really well this year.
"I thought it was important to get deep into the game, 12:40 [p.m. ET] game, it's kind of hard to get up for those games. And our team was eventually going to score some runs."
Shields would have liked to finish out the game, but when Jack Cust hit the right-hander's 104th pitch of the afternoon off the left-field wall for a double, Rays manager Joe Maddon called for closer Troy Percival, who got the final two outs to preserve the win and earn his 20th save of the season.
"It was a little tough [coming out in the ninth]," Shields said. "I wanted to finish it. But Percy's our closer. That's his job to close the games out. So he did a good job."
Shields retired the A's in order in the first before Emil Brown and Carlos Gonzalez hit back-to-back home runs to start the second inning to put the A's up, 2-0.
"Brown ambushed the first pitch and Gonzalez hit a good changeup," Shields said. "Other than that, I thought I pitched pretty well."
Shields is now 6-1 in his last seven starts since serving his six-game suspension. He also improved to 7-1 at home this season with a 2.06 ERA. Besides eating innings, the thing Shields enjoys most is throwing strikes and he has been in a particularly good groove in that vein of late, as he's walked just five hitters in his last six starts.
"I try to do that every year," Shields said. "I think the strikeouts-to-walks ratio is huge for me. I think if I minimize my walks, I'm going to get deep into the games."
Jonny Gomes and Ben Zobrist answered the A's runs with back-to-back home runs for the Rays in the fifth, which was the fourth time Tampa Bay has accomplished the feat this season. Gomes' two-run shot off Greg Smith tied the game before Zobrist connected for a solo shot to give the Rays a 3-2 lead.
Zobrist added an RBI single in the seventh to put the Rays up 4-2. After the game he was told he had been optioned to Triple-A Durham to make room for everyday shortstop Jason Bartlett's return Thursday, making Wednesday's game somewhat bittersweet for Zobrist.
"[I had a] good last few at-bats there, good last game [and I] just have to keep making strides," Zobrist said.
Meanwhile, Gomes' lack of production has fueled season-long rumors about the Rays trading for a right-handed bat.
"I'm the right-handed bat they have right now, unless they decide to make a change," said Gomes when asked if he felt any pressure about his situation. "That's up to the staff and the manager. But I'm not going to change being Jonny Gomes. Here we are in July, there's no tryout in July. They know what they have here. ... The main thing is I've been here so long, I want to be here to help this team win."
Shields understand Gomes' and Zobrist's situations as well as their contributions.
"That's the story of our season right now," Shield said. "Everyone is coming up big. That's why we're winning."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.