ST. PETERSBURG — There have been a lot of ways the Rays have described right-hander James "Complete Game" Shields during his remarkable bounceback season.
"Dominant," Evan Longoria said.
"Lights out," said Sam Fuld.
"Up there with the elite," Casey Kotchman said.
And after Shields delivered another spectacular performance Sunday, tying a club record with his major league-best fifth complete game of the season in a 2-1 sweep-clinching win over the Marlins, manager Joe Maddon said he's deserving of another moniker.
"If that does not put him in the All-Star Game, I don't know what does," Maddon said. "Five complete games before the All-Star break, that doesn't happen every year. It's the way he's done it, too, just been dominating."
Shields (7-4, 2.40 ERA) got some help in picking up his second consecutive complete game, with leftfielder Fuld making two dazzling diving catches in the eighth and Kotchman coming through with another clutch hit, the winning single, as the Rays (39-33) stayed within 41/2 games of the first-place Red Sox before 26,761 at Tropicana Field.
But Shields was the story, allowing one unearned run, striking out 10 and walking none in a 110-pitch outing that was the picture of efficiency. Shields tied Joe Kennedy's club record set in 2002 of five complete games — in just 15 starts — with the Phillies being the only team to boast more this year.
"Over the last couple years, I haven't had any CGs, and this year, I told Joe, I said, 'I'm ready to finish some ballgames,' " Shields said. "It was one of those things where it was one of those pieces of the puzzle that was missing for me. To be able to have this many CGs this early is wonderful."
Shields nearly had his second shutout of the season against the reeling Marlins (32-40), who have lost 18 of their past 19 games and lost their manager two hours before the game when Edwin Rodriguez unexpectedly resigned.
The Marlins got their run when Dewayne Wise led off the game by reaching on an error by third baseman Longoria, moved to third on a double and scored on a sacrifice fly.
The Marlins might have had more had it not been for two great grabs by Fuld in the eighth. First, Fuld raced back to the warning track for a diving catch on a hooking liner by Omar Infante, then he recorded the third out by sprinting in to snag a blooper by Wise, sparking a standing ovation.
"Two game-changing catches," Longoria said.
And on a frustrating day offensively, Kotchman broke a tie at 1 in the bottom half, staying inside an inside fastball by ex-Rays left-hander Randy Choate and pushing it down the third-base line to score Matt Joyce from second.
"I felt I had him beat," Choate said. "Somehow he kept it inside the third-base line, and how I'm not even quite sure, because I think if I had thrown it any further inside, it would have hit him."
Kotchman smiled, saying, "Better to be lucky than good."
Few have been better than Shields, who, knowing Greg Dobbs was likely his last hitter with Kyle Farnsworth warming, struck him out to end it, earning at least one All-Star vote in the process.
"James Shields," Marlins interim manager Brandon Hyde said, "is an All-Star caliber pitcher."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.