ST. PETERSBURG — James Shields had been handling the pitching part pretty well heading into the ninth inning Tuesday night. And if he'd only taken a minute to talk with Dwayne Roloson when a half-dozen Lightning players came by the Trop on Saturday, he might not have been in the predicament he suddenly was: the chance for a victory, and a complete game at that, on the brink, the tying run on second and White Sox sluggers Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko looming.
"After being the worst hockey goalie in baseball and having the ball go through my five hole," Shields said, "I definitely needed to battle through those two guys."
Shields completed the job, striking out Dunn on three pitches and Konerko on five — hitting a surprising 95 mph during the at-bat — to seal a 2-1 win and earn his first complete game victory since May 2008.
"I wanted it really bad," Shields said. "I told Joe (Maddon) in spring training, one of my main goals is to get a CG this year. I think last year there were a lot of games I got taken out, and I told him I want the ball in the ninth. That's what I'm all about. I've been a workhorse since Day 1, and that's one of my main goals is to go as deep as I can in games. He showed a lot tonight leaving me in there, and obviously I got the job done."
Actually, Maddon said, there wasn't much of a decision, even with Juan Pierre on second after the infield hit and a bunt. Shields, 29, had thrown only 93 pitches through eight, was staying in his recently compacted delivery and had been in command of his pitches and control of his emotions.
"It was his game," Maddon said. "It was definitely Shieldsy's game. There was no way I was going to take him out of that."
Shields' final line for his sixth complete game overall, and fourth win: One run on four hits, a walk and a hit batter, nine strikeouts and 105 pitches total.
"He was just dead-on with everything he had tonight," catcher Kelly Shoppach said. "When he's that good you can call pretty much whatever and he's able to execute it."
Shields had help as the Rays (8-9) won for the seventh time in their past eight games before a Tropicana Field crowd of 13,731, nearly erasing their 0-6 start.
Ben Zobrist's first-inning triple led to the first run, and after the Sox tied it in the fifth, they came right back, Zobrist singling and Sean Rodriguez following with his MLB-leading third triple.
And there was more dazzling defense, Matt Joyce making a running, diving catch in right to rob Pierre of extra bases and Shoppach firing to first to pick off Konerko in the seventh.
But no one did more than Shields, whose rebound from his 15-loss, 5.18 ERA season has been thus far encouraging, with a 1-1, 3.07 mark through four starts. "Going into the season I felt really confident," he said. "Being able to put it together is definitely satisfying, there's no doubt about it. But this is a long season. If I can stay consistent with (my delivery) I'll be a more consistent pitcher."
One who, to even his surprise, can hit 95 mph along the way?
"He threw 95?" Shoppach said. "Oh my gosh. That means we have to hear about that (today)."