ANAHEIM, Calif. — Monday's 4-3 win over the Angels left the Rays fit to be tied.
James Shields matched Scott Kazmir as the franchise wins leader at 55, and the Rays pulled even, again, with the Yankees atop the American League East.
As if being tied with 37 games remaining didn't hold enough promise of excitement, consider this: It's the first time since divisional play was launched in 1969 that two teams in the same division have 77 or more wins after 125 games.
"We've been in first place a few times this year, but it's definitely nice to get back,'' Shields said. "We're winning ballgames we need to win.''
The Rays got off to a good start, as B.J. Upton knocked Kazmir's first pitch over the leftfield fence as they scored three in the first and another in the second, then hung on in what was their fifth straight one-run game of the roadtrip.
Shields won for the first time in his hometown stadium and Rafael Soriano earned his major league-leading 38th save by striking out the side on nine pitches — the first in the majors to do so this season, and the first for a save since LaTroy Hawkins for the Cubs in September 2004.
Kazmir had been pitching better since a month-long DL stint and wasn't as anxious about facing his ex-mates as the first time in May. But he looked about the same, and as he often did during his 144 starts as a Ray: allowing four runs (three earned) on five hits and four walks, striking out four and needing 103 pitches to get through 5-1/3 innings.
"It just seems if I would have gotten past that first inning without any damage it would have been a whole different outcome,'' Kazmir said.
Shields was better, working into the seventh, allowing eight hits and three runs (two earned) while walking one and, surprising to even manager Joe Maddon, striking out 10.
Shields was intrigued about pitching for a piece of history, first tying Kazmir's franchise mark for starts and then for wins. (Kazmir does still lead in strikeouts.)
How much a part of Rays history are those two? The next winningest pitcher in franchise history is Victor Zambrano — who was traded for Kazmir — with 35 wins. (Matt Garza is next with 32.)
"It's definitely an honor,'' said Shields, 28. "Especially … to be in one organization as long as I have so far. Hopefully I can get a lot more wins.''
"He's been a rock for us for the last several years,'' Maddon said. "I think he's throwing the ball really well and physically he's been really, really good. He's got a lot left in him. He's got a lot more wins left in him, I believe.''
The Rays jumped out to a quick lead, or about as quickly as Upton's drive sailed over the fence, the fourth leadoff homer of his career.
"I just wanted to get something started,'' Upton said, "and he threw it in a spot where I like it.''
Upton and Kazmir are close friends, close enough that when they faced off for the first time in May and Upton flashed a smile, Kazmir had to look away to not lose his focus.
This time, Upton had to work hard to keep the straight face, rounding the bases quickly with his head down, though his smile from the dugout was clear. "I think the head down said enough,'' Upton said.
Maddon said that may have been the tougher part of the at-bat: "I would say not to smile is a little but more difficult.''
Kazmir had more trouble in what became a 32-pitch inning, and the Rays got two more runs. He hit Jason Bartlett on the foot on a two-strike pitch, walked Carl Crawford and, after striking out Evan Longoria, threw wildly past second on a pickoff attempt. Ben Zobrist, hitting barely .170 over the past two months, made him pay with a single to right that scored two.
"A huge hit by Zo,'' Maddon said.
"A recipe for disaster just letting guys have free passes,'' Kazmir said. "It was a tough first inning.''
The Rays made it 4-0 in the second when Sean Rodriguez, the top player acquired in last August's Kazmir trade, doubled and scored when Upton — who hit the ball hard all night, narrowly missing two other homers — doubled with one out.
They had chances for more, but Kazmir settled down a bit, and throwing his often missing slider for strikes. "I think there were a lot of positives I can take out of this game,'' Kazmir said.
Shields had a few of his own issues, with runners on, and at least as far as second, in five of the first six innings. He escaped four times and could have the other, but Upton couldn't hang on to Hideki Matsui's drive for what would have been a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch at the centerfield wall. Instead, the Angels score halved the lead to 4-2.
They got another run in the seventh, with some help from the Rays. Rookie Peter Bourjos singled and stole second but got to third when catcher Kelly Shoppach's throw sailed into the outfield. He scored on a sac fly to right when Zobrist's throw drifted wide of the plate.
But Chad Qualls got the Rays out of the seventh, Joaquin Benoit got them through the eighth and Soriano made quick work of the ninth, quick enough that he'll be available tonight for what would be a fourth consecutive game.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]