04/27/08 5:55 PM ET
Shields slings Rays to sweep vs. Sox
Righty hurls two-hitter; Rays off to best start in club history
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
James Shields pitched his best game of the season to lead the Rays to a 3-0 win over the Red Sox in front of 32,363 on Sunday at Tropicana Field.
The win moved the Rays into a first-place tie in the American League East with the Orioles and Red Sox in addition to giving Tampa Bay a sweep of the weekend series while extending its winning streak to six games.
But this was the Red Sox, the biggest of the AL East bullies. And the Rays went through Tim Wakefield, Clay Buchholz and, finally, October legend Josh Beckett to complete the sweep of the defending World Series champions.
"I think it's a confidence builder and indicates -- or proves -- that we can beat these guys," said Rays manager Joe Maddon.
After 25 games, the Rays have the most wins they've had in April and they are three games over .500, which they have never been this late in the season. Yes, it's only April, but Sunday's win was cause for the Rays to be excited.
"It's huge for us," Shields said. "If you look back it's the best April we've ever had. ... We're just going to try and keep it rolling and stay positive."
Shields earned his third win of the season, having little trouble with a Red Sox lineup that did not include David Ortiz on Sunday.
"I definitely had my good stuff tonight," Shields said.
Shields faced just 29 hitters, limiting the Red Sox to two hits and a walk, while throwing just 98 pitches.
Shields "really got into a great rhythm," said Maddon, who added Shields was getting a lot of outs early in the count. "By throwing them strikes, it would make them swing early, which is what they don't want to do. They want to work the count. So you've got to be aggressive early, and that's a big part of his game, getting ahead with his fastball and working the cutter and change off of that. He did a great job with that. I can't say enough. That was outstanding."
But the win didn't come easy, as Beckett brought his "A" game, too.
Beckett struck out the first five hitters he faced and had eight strikeouts through three innings en route to a career-high 13 strikeouts over seven innings.
"I was watching from the tunnel between innings and [Beckett] was lights out today," Shields said. "He probably had his best stuff today, too. It's just one of those games where you have to battle with their No. 1 guy."
The Rays scored first when Jason Bartlett singled to lead off the third and scored on a bizarre play that saw Beckett throw wild to first base in a pickoff attempt, sending the ball rolling down the right-field line. Right fielder J.D. Drew fielded the ball and made a bad throw home. With the ball rolling slowly between first and home, Bartlett went for the plate and scored standing up.
Evan Longoria led off the seventh with his third home run of the season, a solo shot coming on a 2-2 curve ball from Beckett, to give the Rays a 2-0 lead.
Beckett was tough "especially early on," Longoria said. "We really didn't have an answer for him the first couple of innings. He really had his good stuff working."
Longoria struck out the first two times facing Beckett.
"In my opinion, I battled him tough, and he just made good pitches against me in my first two at-bats," Longoria said. "I told myself [that in] my third at-bat I wasn't going to strike out. I got to two strikes and kept battling. He finally gave me a pitch I could handle."
Carl Crawford added an RBI double in the eighth to push the lead to 3-0, giving Shields a nice cushion for his final inning of work.
Shields received a loud ovation when he sprinted from the dugout to start the ninth inning, which brought a contrast to the loud Red Sox cheers the Rays heard in the first and second games of the weekend series.
"That first game was kind of embarrassing for us [Friday night], I'm not going to lie about that," said Shields, who earlier addressed how disappointed he was in the home fans for not showing up to support the team. "It was kind of embarrassing, and tonight was a little different ballgame. I heard the Rays fans come out. That's great for us. We were pumped up in the dugout. It's one of those things where the fans bring us together."
Indeed, Sunday was huge for the Rays, but, clearly, Sunday belonged to Shields.
Shields "deserves a lot of credit," Beckett said. "It's not the last time he will outpitch someone."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.