OAKLAND, Calif. — James Shields was relieved to still be with the Rays to make his Tuesday night start after the deadline passed for nonwaiver trades. Then he went out and showed opposing general managers what they may have missed out on.
Shields put his extended struggles behind him with a stellar three-hit complete-game outing reminiscent of his early season and 2011 performance to lead the Rays to an 8-0 win over the A's.
"That was as good as I've seen him in a long time," manager Joe Maddon said. "You look at Shields and his body of work to this point, you know it's in there and you know he's going to come back and pitch this way. It's fortunate for us that he's still here. He's going to pitch like that the rest of this season."
Combining Shields' welcome effort with a productive though not powerful offense that totaled more than six runs for just the second time since the All-Star break, the Rays (54-50) guaranteed a winning record on their nine-game cross-country challenge against other wild-card contenders, and with a chance today to take all three series.
Many of the Rays were just happy to see Shields in the clubhouse before his start given the recurring trade rumors, David Price and B.J. Upton joining him for a group hug. In his seventh career shutout and first complete game this season, Shields allowed only three singles — and no walks — while striking out 11 and throwing 98 pitches, giving the worn-out bullpen a day of rest. After the final out, Shields pointed to the pen in acknowledgement.
After going 5-0, 3.05 in his first six starts, Shields was 3-7, 5.16 in his next 15, and as his struggles went on it was hard not to think the ongoing trade talk was an issue.
"It really hadn't bothered me to be honest with you," Shields said. "But, yeah, it's good to be a Ray. I consider Tampa Bay my home. ... I'm glad to be here."
Maddon said Shields' performance was the product of the trade deadline passing and a chance in game plan orchestrated by pitching coach Jim Hickey to rely more on the fastball and not repeat his changeup and curveball too often.
"I think it was a combination of him relaxing knowing he was here and I think the game plan was outstanding,'' Maddon said. "It was pretty much textbook. I thought he was outstanding.''
Shields agreed it that it looked and felt similar to 2011, when he threw 11 completes games, including four shutouts. "It's been awhile since I felt like last year,'' he said. "I was in control of everything tonight.''
The Rays took a 2-0 lead in the third, combining three hits, two groundouts and, perhaps most importantly, catcher Jose Lobaton getting in an extended rundown, and added on from there.
Rightfielder Sam Fuld, continuing his hot injury-delayed start, had three hits to raise his average to .391 and centerfielder Upton, who was 0-for-7 in Monday's 15-inning marathon loss, had two, singling in the first run and scoring another.
The five runs they got off A's starter Tommy Milone were the most he allowed in a home game, and one fewer than his total for eight starts in the spacious Coliseum.
Lobaton led off the third with a double and went to third on Fuld's single to right. Desmond Jennings followed with a grounder to third and though Lobaton was tagged out, he kept the play going long enough that the Rays ended up in better position as Fuld came around to third and Jennings went to second.
It paid off when Upton singled to left for the first run and Ben Zobrist's grounder to second was soft enough for Jennings to score the second.
They extended the lead to 5-0 in the sixth, when they opened with three consecutive singles, by Upton, Zobrist and Jeff Keppinger, then followed with a sac fly by Carlos Pena and another RBI single by Sean Rodriguez.
Between the pitching, the baserunning and the overall play, Maddon had plenty to be pleased about.
"That was as clean a game as we've played in a long time,'' he said. "It was very clean.''
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]