ST. PETERSBURG — James Shields had plenty to be pleased with in Tuesday's 4-0 win over the Royals.
He threw his major league-leading eighth complete game and fourth shutout, picked up his 11th win, and with the game lasting 1 hour and 53 minutes — shortest for nine innings in team history — he had a chance to get home to Clearwater in time to tuck his two daughters into bed.
But there was the one thing that left him shaking his head: the fourth-inning stolen base by rookie Eric Hosmer that was the first against him all season.
"I was kicking myself in the butt there," he said.
Everybody else — figuratively, anyway — was slapping Shields on the butt in congratulations for another outstanding effort before a Trop gathering of 10,124, third smallest of the season.
The Rays, winning for the eighth time in 12 games, improved to 61-54 and moved to within 8½ games of the wild card-leading Yankees, making this weekend's series in New York potentially more interesting.
Shields, scattering six hits and striking out eight (while walking three), didn't quite do it all, as the Rays played dazzling defense all over the field, including three double plays of increasing difficulty and an impressive unveiling of rookie leftfielder Desmond Jennings' arm as he nailed Jeff Francoeur at second. "Do not overlook the defense," manager Joe Maddon said.
Then there was third baseman Evan Longoria, sporting a nearly shaved head in his third hairstyle in three days, providing all the offense. Longoria, taking early extended batting practice in an attempt to end his extended skid, delivered a two-run single in the hurry-up first — hit batter, bunt hit, double steal — and a two-run homer in the sixth.
"To see the actual work finally pay off and be able to contribute in a big way, it's a pretty big weight off my shoulders for a day,'' Longoria said.
The game moved along so quickly — ending at 9:03 p.m. — some of the Rays wondered if there was a malfunction with the stadium clocks. "We'll take it and get an extra hour to sleep," 37-year-old DH Johnny Damon said. "Or party, whatever these young kids want to do."
Shields is as awed by the eight complete games as much as anyone given that he hadn't had one since 2008. "I didn't think I was going to get one (this year),'' he said. "Fortunately for me it's been a lot.''
Since the 2000 season, only two other pitchers have had eight by this date, the Phillies' Roy Halladay last year and Oakland's Mark Mulder in 2003. And only two AL pitchers in the past 10 years have had four shutouts in a season: Texas' Derek Holland this year; Halladay, for Toronto, in 2009.
"Shields is an ace,'' Francoeur said.
He did Tuesday's work with a repeatedly well-located low fastball and his usual tremendous changeup, though Royals manager Ned Yost said he considered it "maybe a notch below" that of rookie Jeremy Hellickson.
Shields takes as much pride in controlling the running game as anything else (evidenced by his MLB-best 10 pickoffs, and only four previous steal attempts), so that made Hosmer's steal — when Shields mistakenly used a high leg kick instead of slide step — that much more annoying.
"I kind of messed up there," he said.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.