Rays follow Shields to road win
Tampa Bay leads Boston by 3 1/2 games in AL East
SEATTLE -- James Shields made his 17th quality start of the season on Friday night, and the Rays cashed in the performance for a 5-3 win over the Mariners in front of a crowd of 30,220 at Safeco Field.
The Rays moved to 69-46 on the season and increased their lead in the American League East to 3 1/2 games, as the second-place Red Sox lost to the White Sox, 5-3, on Friday. The Rays are 1-1 on the current 10-game, three-stop road trip.
Shields held the Mariners to three runs on nine hits while allowing no walks and striking out five in 6 2/3 innings to pick up his 10th win of the season. And it came with some help from the offense.
Recently the Rays' offense has sputtered with Shields on the mound. In his previous five starts, he has been the beneficiary of just 2.31 runs of support per nine innings. But Friday night he got help right when he needed it most.
Staked to a 1-0 lead thanks to Carlos Pena's 21st home run of the season, Shields surrendered a two-run homer to Wladimir Balentien in the bottom of the second.
The Rays answered in the top of the third. Ben Zobrist singled with one out, and Akinori Iwamura added a single before B.J. Upton singled home Zobrist. Carl Crawford then hit a ball to Yuniesky Betancourt that the Mariners shortstop threw over the head of first baseman Bryan LaHair, allowing both men on base to score. Pena singled home Crawford to put the Rays up 5-2.
Shields "is a great pitcher, and he keeps coming after them. He's a warrior out there," Pena said. "And I know for a fact that to get that little bit of a cushion is big for any pitcher."
Shields thrived with the lead.
"I gave up the lead early, and [then] got runs right away," Shields said. "It was my job to shut them down after that. If they score five runs for me, it's my job to get that win every time. We did a great job overall today, and it's good to have a win coming off that loss."
Shields allowed one more run, which was no easy accomplishment given the fact he wasn't really sharp.
"I didn't have good stuff today," Shields said. "Coming out of the bullpen I didn't think I had great stuff. I just kind of bulldogged my way through it. ... My changeup was working all right today, but I had to go to it more than I wanted to."
Grant Balfour took over for Shields with two outs in the seventh, and he retired Raul Ibanez on a groundout to second to end the inning. The big Aussie then retired the Mariners in order in the eighth. Troy Percival got the final three outs of the game, including two on strikeouts, to earn his 25th save of the season.
"Shieldsie was not as sharp as he can be, but he battled through it," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We played with a lot of intensity, I liked that. The bullpen was excellent -- Grant and Percy -- Percy was really sharp tonight. That's good to see."
Of significance was the fact the Rays won yet another game with a dinged-up lineup featuring Zobrist at shortstop -- rather than Jason Bartlett -- and Willy Aybar at third -- rather than Evan Longoria. Bartlett and Longoria are mending from minor injuries.
"We won the same type kind of game two days ago at home against Cleveland," said Maddon, referencing the makeshift nature of Wednesday's lineup when the Rays claimed a come-from-behind win at Tropicana Field. "A bunch of different guys out there, and part of it is, regardless of who has been out there, they all have been playing. Nobody's really sat.
"I've said it and I mean it: I don't hesitate to put any of these people in the lineup. I feel we're going to get a good effort and production from all of them. And they're playing with the right type of attitude right now, and I like that."
Upton said: "It's just all about guys picking each other up."
"[Longoria] has been a big factor in what we're doing this year," Upton said. "He was out today, and Willy picked him up. Bartlett [still is out], and Zobrist came in and picked him up. [It] emphasizes the team aspect."
Friday night's road win improved the Rays' record away from home to just five games under .500.
"Coming into this last two months of the year, we're playing on the road a lot, so we have to start playing as well on the road as we have at home," Upton said.
Friday night was a good step in that direction.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.