BOSTON — It didn't take long to see that Saturday night's start against the Red Sox wasn't going to go as well for James Shields as his last one.
Last Sunday at Tropicana Field, he allowed two hits over nine spectacular innings in posting a shutout. Saturday, he allowed four hits — to the first four batters — and failed to get through the fourth inning of an ugly 12-4 loss.
"It was pretty much terrible," Shields said.
Pitching on another cold (game-time temperature 45 degrees) and damp New England night, Shields allowed seven runs on a career-high-matching 10 hits and three walks. The same 98 pitches he used to get all 27 outs last week netted him only 11 on Saturday.
"He just looked not comfortable," manager Joe Maddon said. "Nothing totally out of whack, just wasn't able to make the pitches that he normally makes."
Shields took the same approach as he did in the last game, and the Sox hitters did not appear to be doing much different — except putting the ball in play.
"I was getting the ground balls I needed; they were just finding holes," Shields said.
They got started right away, as leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury singled to center, Dustin Pedroia grounded a single through the infield, David Ortiz doubled off the Green Monster, and Manny Ramirez singled up the middle. By the time the first inning was over, the Sox had a 3-0 lead and Shields had thrown 32 pitches.
"It's not the easiest thing to face a team back-to-back," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "Sometimes their stuff's not the same, their command's not the same, there are different reasons."
It matched the second-shortest start of Shields' career and might have been among the most frustrating given the circumstances.
Last week's gem completed a sweep at the Trop, propelling the Rays into a tie for first in the American League East. They won two of three in Baltimore and came to Boston on an all-time high, atop the division by percentage points ahead of the Red Sox and a franchise-record-matching four games over .500 at 16-12.
But after they lost Friday, Shields felt it was his responsibility to keep it from happening again.
"It was frustrating," Shields said. "After (Friday) night, I think I needed to pitch better tonight. I disappointed the bullpen; I disappointed the team. So I'm not too happy right now."
Despite Shields' struggles, the Rays stayed in it for a while against Boston ace Josh Beckett, who completed eight innings on 100 pitches. Down 5-2, they opened the fourth with three straight hits and one run but got no more, as Dioner Navarro lined out, and, after Gabe Gross walked to load the bases, Nathan Haynes lined to left and Ramirez threw out Carlos Pena at the plate.
The Sox came back with two to start the fourth, and Shields' night was done when he walked Kevin Youkilis with two outs.
"I just wasn't on my game today," Shields said.
Marc Topkin can be reached