By the numbers
6 Home runs allowed by James Shields, tying modern-day major-league record
16 Batters faced by Shields in allowing the six homers
46 Pitches thrown to the 16 batters
2,369 Combined distance in feet of the six homers
TORONTO — James Shields could not have felt any better for Saturday's start, and in retrospect, that probably should have been the first sign of concern. Because by the time it was mercifully over, he could not have felt any worse, having allowed a modern-day major-league-record-tying six home runs in the Rays' 17-11 loss to the Blue Jays.
Big Game became Big Shame.
"Disgusting is pretty much what it was," Shields said. "There was nothing going right when I was out there. I was out of rhythm, my timing was off, I didn't hit any spots. And they took advantage of it, obviously."
Shields, who lasted four innings, became the eighth pitcher since 1900 to allow six homers in a game (Charlie Sweeney gave up seven in 1886).
The jolting Jays, led by dazzling rookie J.P. Arencibia (the only player in modern time with four hits, including two homers, in his major-league debut), kept swinging. Thanks to contributions from relievers Dale Thayer and Chad Qualls, the Rays allowed a team-record eight homers total, as well as a record-tying 12 extra-base hits amid a season-high 20 hits and 17 runs.
As much as those accomplishments extend what has been an eventful season for the Rays, topped by involvement in three no-hitters, they weren't the biggest numbers of the day.
The Rays (67-43) — playing without injured Carlos Peña and sore Carl Crawford, and announcing that Jeff Niemann would miss today's start due to shoulder soreness — lost their season-high fourth straight, all since going back into first place in the American League East on Tuesday. They dropped 1½ games behind the first-place Yankees.
"We've got to come back and fight," Shields said. "Obviously there is still a lot of season left, but this is a good time to stop this losing streak."
Shields, coming off a dominating big-game performance last Sunday against the Yankees, felt that way as he walked to the mound for Saturday's matinee.
"Probably the best pregame bullpen I ever had," Shields said. "I felt really good. It was almost like I felt too good."
He walked the first batter, gave up a double to the second, then walked the third and the fourth. Even though he escaped with only one run, the signs of trouble were there; 16 of his 34 pitches were balls.
"He was just missing," manager Joe Maddon said. "The ball was just going to the wrong spots, and (the Jays) weren't missing them."
Shields — who leads the majors with 28 homers allowed — had all kinds of problems. He overthrew. His location was off, as fastballs he aimed low and away ended up over the plate. He couldn't get into a rhythm with rookie catcher John Jaso (veteran Kelly Shoppach was behind the plate last Sunday). His mechanics were off.
But his biggest issue, he said, was feeling too strong, a direct result of the Rays' plan to give each starter an extra day's rest before their latest turn.
"Sometimes that's not very good," Shields said. "Sometimes that hurts you. Look at our June, when we had every Monday off and were on, like, a six-man rotation, and it was probably the worst month of our existence.
"I know they want us to have rest. I know they're looking out for our pitch counts and the way our bodies feel and stuff this late in the season. But it's almost like I felt too good and got out of my element a little bit."
Maddon didn't sound all too pleased with Shields' game plan: "Early on, more offspeed pitches than he normally throws as opposed to staying aggressive with his fastball," Maddon said. "I thought that kind of put them in a better spot because they were able to lay off some borderline offspeed stuff and then get back to the fastball."
But as always, Maddon insisted in finding positives, in this case how the Rays rallied for four runs in the ninth and in not getting too down over one loss, noting that the Jays, who lead the majors in homers by a hefty margin, are going to hit the ball out of the park.
"The inevitable happened today, although magnified a bit," Maddon said. "I wasn't really counting on eight (homers)."