Rays gain on Yanks with Shields' 11 K's
Stellar effort pulls Tampa Bay within one game of AL East lead
ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays players tried to call their weekend series with the Yankees just another series, but nobody was buying it.
When James Shields struck out pinch-hitter Alex Rodriguez looking to end the top of the seventh, the Rays right-hander didn't shake his arms because his double-digit strikeouts earned free pizzas for those in attendance. The pitch and the reaction said more like, "We're going to be around for the rest of the summer."
Shields' 11 strikeouts led the way for the Rays as they took a 3-0 win over the Yankees on Sunday afternoon in front of 36,973 at Tropicana Field. By winning, the Rays "meatloafed" the Yankees -- manager Joe Maddon's vernacular for taking two out of three -- to move within a game of the American League East leaders.
Sellout crowds attended each of the three games at Tropicana Field. Some of the fans were for the Rays, others pulled for the Yankees and the atmosphere felt like October.
"It was a huge series, especially here at home," Shields said. "We struggled at home the first half of the season, and we're really trying to focus on getting that home-field advantage back. I think a lot of teams don't like coming into The Trop and playing here. Having the fans coming out and supporting us here was great."
Shields allowed no runs on four hits and walked one to pick up his 10th win of the season. Maddon called the performance the best he'd seen from Shields.
"It was a pretty good game -- I don't know if it was the best I've ever pitched," Shields said. "It was definitely up there in the top couple of outings. I think [considering] the game situation and trying to win the series, it definitely was up there."
The Yankees have seen Shields plenty, and they are well aware of how effective his changeup can be.
"I think commanding my fastball was what the key was to get them off my changeup a little bit," Shields said. "I was able to go in and out with it, up and down. I was able to throw my curveball for a strike, so when I needed my changeup, it was there and they weren't sitting on it, taking really good hacks at it."
Nick Swisher felt like a large part of Shields' success with his changeup came in the fact he wasn't throwing the pitch for strikes.
"We were chasing them," Swisher said. "The next time we get him in a situation like that, we've got to make sure we get strikes."
Kelly Shoppach and Carl Crawford had RBIs on an afternoon that saw the Rays generate just enough offense to hang a loss on Yankees ace CC Sabathia.
"I didn't think [Sabathia] had great command of his sinker today," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "But he found a way to keep the game close to give us a chance. We just didn't score any runs."
Despite what Shields and the offense did, the final two innings did not pass without some suspense.
After Shields allowed a single to Derek Jeter with one out in the eighth, Maddon called to the bullpen for new acquisition Chad Qualls. The veteran right-hander's numbers accrued at Arizona were not good, but the Rays liked the fact Qualls could get ground balls and hitters often missed his pitches.
Facing Lance Berkman, Qualls immediately fell behind, 3-0.
"I was just trying to make the perfect pitch on him and ended up getting myself behind," Qualls said. "From there on, I was just trying to throw a good two-seamer into the zone."
Qualls got strike one and hoped he could get Berkman to "roll it over."
"And fortunately he did," Qualls said.
Berkman hit the ground ball the Rays needed. Reid Brignac plucked the ball from the clay and flipped to Jason Bartlett at second, where the Rays' shortstop made a successful relay to first to complete the inning-ending double play.
Qualls smiled when asked if he felt good about delivering what the Rays wanted from him.
"Yeah, especially first time out, to go and help the team win is a good feeling," Qualls said.
The Rays loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning but couldn't add to the lead, causing Rays fans to worry if the team's inability to capitalize on the opportunity would bite them in the ninth. Rafael Soriano insured that it did not.
On Saturday night, the Rays' closer had been the one to get bit when he allowed a go-ahead home run to Robinson Cano in the ninth.
"Last night, I felt like something was wrong with me," Soriano said. "I was mad. Today, when I came here, I said, 'Soriano, I know you were getting mad last night. Why did you get mad?' I talked to the manager, and I said, 'Hey, sorry I've been talking about myself -- I've been mad.' Everybody didn't want to talk to me last night -- nobody back home, nothing like that. ... I said, 'You need me today? I'll be ready.'"
Maddon called on Soriano on Sunday afternoon, and he allowed only a two-out single to Swisher before retiring Jorge Posada on a flyout to left field to end the game, earning his 30th save of the season in the process.
The Rays had a chance to sweep the Yankees over the weekend, but Shields said he had no regrets about what took place at Tropicana Field over the course of the past three days.
"Definitely not -- we won the series, and that's what our main goal is," Shields said. "You want to win every night, and last night was a tough loss, there's no doubt about it. But it was my job today to come back strong and help this team win."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.