OAKLAND, Calif. — James Shields began Wednesday's game as the shining example of the Rays' successful stable of young starting pitchers, as with his first delivery the team broke the major-league record with its 705th straight game started by a pitcher under 30.
But at the end of the ugly night — a 13-4 loss to the A's that dropped the Rays 11½ games from first place in the AL East — he was being mentioned with some old pitchers from their dark Devil Rays days.
Shields gave up nine runs in the fourth inning — joining the legendary trio of Rob Bell, Travis Harper and Tanyon Sturtze as Rays to do so in one inning — and a career-high-tying 10 in one of the worst of his 173 starts as a Ray.
"An all-around terrible job,'' Shields said. "That's pretty much what it was.''
The loss was the Rays' 16th in their past 25 games and fifth in six games on the road trip to Kansas City, Oakland and Seattle, during which they expected to make up ground and get back in the race for a playoff spot.
Instead, the dismal effort appeared to have extinguished their chances and may accelerate their efforts to trade a number of players before Sunday's 4 p.m. deadline for nonwaiver deals.
Especially as poorly as they have played, with not only the repeated struggles by their offense but a significant dropoff in performance by their worn-out bullpen and a spike in mistakes, mental and physical, all around the field.
"It's not any fun," manager Joe Maddon said. "We're not playing horribly. … We're in one of those unlucky moments. We have to keep pushing until we turn it around."
The Rays (53-50) had just eight hits Wednesday and were close to being shut out for the 10th time in their past 49 games, and 11th overall, before Matt Joyce homered in the ninth. They snapped an 0-for-18 skid with runners in scoring position when rookie Desmond Jennings singled in a run and are 3-for-29 for the series.
"The hitting is just not there,'' Maddon said. "It's like at the beginning of the season. When we don't hit, everything else seems to be flat."
Shields, who has been having a tremendous season, is one of the players being mentioned in various trade rumors, with the Reds hot recently. But Shields said the trade talk was not an issue — "Not at all" — on Wednesday.
"I was leaving the ball up, I was making mistakes and they were hitting it,'' Shields said. "I wasn't sharp all night, right from the gates. I felt really, really good in the bullpen and right in the first inning I didn't feel too good.''
Shields gave up a couple of hits in the early innings day then a run in the third. But the fourth was a mess as he gave up the nine runs on seven hits — including home runs by Hideki Matsui and Ryan Sweeney — two walks and an embarrassing error by rightfielder Joyce, who overran a ground ball and later misplayed another ball in the corner.
"I came in hard and tried to make a play and try to throw a runner out but the ball snaked on me and, shoot, I missed it,'' Joyce said. "It's a tough thing to go through. It's even tougher to see one of your best pitchers out there and make a mistake.''
Shields joined some special company. Bell, in an April 18, 2005, game at Yankee Stadium, gave up a team-record 10 runs in the second inning. Sturtze allowed nine in the third at Boston on July 23, 2002, and Harper nine in the eighth on June 21, 2005, at New York.
The only good thing to come out of the night was that the Rays ended up using only two relievers after Shields, just-promoted reliever Rob Delaney (sent down after the game) and Brandon Gomes, though they had outfielder Justin Ruggiano in the bullpen at one point.
With B.J. Upton already being rested — or held out in advance of a trade — the Rays took third baseman Evan Longoria out of the game in the fifth.
"We've had a tough two weeks,'' Joyce said. "We have to pick ourselves up and grind through it.''