Tampa Bay Rays beat New York Mets 3-1

NEW YORK — During the hour-plus rain delay in the top of the eighth inning Saturday, James Shields enlisted Dioner Navarro's help to figure out how long he'd have to pitch to win 300 games.

They decided, amid great amusement, it would take him another 24 years, when he'd be 51. For now, he'll cherish his 38th win, which he earned Saturday by outpitching one of his idols, Mets ace Johan Santana, in the Rays' 3-1 victory.

"It was a battle," Shields said. "Whenever you're facing Johan Santana, he's one of the premiere, if not the premiere, pitcher in the league, and I was just fortunate enough to outdo him."

The Rays (36-34) expect such efforts from Shields, who stopped a Rays losing streak of three or more games for the third time this season. And they were thrilled to help him with American League home run leader Carlos Peña hitting — figuratively and literally — one of his biggest homers, a mammoth blast that cleared just about dead centerfield at spacious Citi Field in the seventh and broke a 1-1 tie.

There was some discussion in the clubhouse over how far the ball went. (The Mets don't announce distances.) But there was no doubt how big it was in helping the inconsistent Rays to a badly needed victory, just their second when scoring fewer than four runs.

"That was a good one to win," Peña said. "Those close ones feel good to win."

"A great win for us," Shields said.

Shields acknowledged Friday that he was looking forward to the matchup, explaining that as he came up through the minors, he looked up to Santana because they are in a small group of pitchers who specialize in the changeup.

Though Shields did the professional thing after the game and downplayed the showdown, his effort in his 100th career start spoke for him.

"He was phenomenal; just pounding the zone," Ben Zobrist said.

"The real story was James Shields," Peña said.

After giving up a run in the second on two doubles and another double in the top of the third, Shields cut the Mets off, retiring his next 14.

Had the game not been interrupted by rain, manager Joe Maddon said, Shields would have had a chance to finish what he started. As it was, he worked seven innings, allowing just the three hits and no walks, improving to 6-5 and lowering his ERA to 3.36.

"He'll give up an inning once in a while with one or two runs, and then he really settles in," Maddon said. "And when he gets on a roll, he stays on it."

Santana, coming off his worst career outing, started at his best, holding the Rays without a hit until Jason Bartlett — his former Twins teammate — doubled with one out in the fifth.

Gabe Kapler doubled him in to make it 1-1. Then Peña's blast leading off the seventh made it 2-1. Zobrist homered (his 15th) in the ninth, and J.P. Howell got the final three outs.

As much as the Rays have sputtered at times, Maddon senses they liked the situation and the stage of Saturday's nationally televised showdown.

"I think our guys in general, after what we had done last year, kind of like these things," Maddon said. "We like bigger games. We like bigger crowds. We like bigger moments. I think all our guys are good to that point, and that's going to speak well for us as the season continues."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Rays 3

Mets 1

Tampa Bay Rays beat New York Mets 3-1 06/20/09 [Last modified: Sunday, June 21, 2009 7:34am]

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