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09/23/08 9:32 PM ET

Shields helps Rays get closer to title

Starter works seven to win Game 1, tie Arrojo for club record

BALTIMORE -- James Shields went deep into the game to complete his mission, and the Rays got some timely hitting to take a 5-2 win over the Orioles in the first game of a doubleheader Tuesday night at Camden Yards.

The win gave the Rays a three-game cushion over the Red Sox, who were in the early innings of a game against the Indians at Fenway Park. The victory also whittled down the Rays' magic number to three entering Tuesday nightcap, which means any combination of Rays wins and Red Sox losses totaling three will make the Rays the American League East champions.

"We can taste it, we can taste it," Shields said. "We're not done yet. I don't know what Boston's doing right now, but we're going to try and win this second game here. All we're worried about is what we're doing on the field, and that's all that matters."

Tampa Bay moved to 94-62 on the season, which tied the 1991 Atlanta Braves (94-68) for the most wins by a team that had Major League Baseball's worst record the year before.

Rays manager Joe Maddon handed Shields the starting assignment for the first game in Baltimore two weeks ago due to Shields' ability to get deep into the ballgames, which would, in theory, save the bullpen for the second game. He entered Tuesday night's game averaging 14.6 pitches per inning, which ranked as the fewest in the American League and went a long way toward explaining his ability to go deep into games.

Despite an early hiccup, Shields followed the plan to a T, holding the Orioles to two runs on eight hits in seven innings to pick up his 14th win of the season.

"After the first couple of innings, I didn't think I had enough to get to the seventh," Shields said. "But this team hacks, and I got a couple of lucky plays and first-pitch outs and went from there.

Shields' win tied Rolando Arrojo for the Rays' club record for most wins in a season; Arrojo established the mark in 1998.

Tying Arrojo's mark "means a lot," Shields said. "I've worked hard enough to where I think I'm going to be able to get to this point on a consistent basis.

"From here on out, that's my goal -- to be able to get those types of wins," Shields said. "This year's been a Cinderella story for the whole team. The defense has been unbelievable all year, our offense is coming around."

Shields struck out Luke Scott to start the Orioles' second, but Scott reached on a wild pitch. Lou Montanez then homered to left to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead.

"In the second inning, they got the home run, then [Shields] settled into the game, which permits you to organize the second game by what he does," Maddon said.

Dioner Navarro opened the Rays' fifth with a double to left and went to third when Jason Bartlett singled through the middle. Navarro scored when Orioles starter Garrett Olson threw wild to first while trying to pick off Bartlett. Fernando Perez's RBI double scored Bartlett to tie the game at 2.

Barlett doubled home Navarro in the sixth to put the Rays up, 3-2. Carlos Pena singled home Perez in the seventh to increase the lead to 4-2, and Perez's bunt single in the eighth scored Ben Zobrist from third to put Tampa Bay up, 5-2.

Grant Balfour pitched a scoreless eighth before Dan Wheeler followed with a scoreless ninth to preserve the win and earn his 13th save of the season.

"Once again, wonderful performance [by Shields]," Maddon said. "We got enough offense as the game was in progress. The at-bats got better and we made some really good plays on defense. We executed really well. So I was pleased with that, also."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.