ST. PETERSBURG — After watching James Shields outduel CC Sabathia in pitching the Rays to an important 2-1 win over the Yankees on Thursday night, manager Joe Maddon was quick with his answer to the pressing question of the veteran right-hander possibly being traded:
"I really don't see him going anywhere," Maddon said.
Besides, after perusing the box score, Maddon had a question of his own. "You look at his record, 9-8. How is that possible?" Maddon said. "How is that possible? You see Sabathia 14-5; that's what Shieldsy's record should look like."
The reason is obvious, given the Rays' often-anemic offense. And that's what made Thursday's win, before an enthusiastic 29,279 at Tropicana Field, even more impressive. For the 10th time in Shields' 21 starts, the Rays got him no more than two runs — on Evan Longoria's frustration-powered homer in the first and a Sam Fuld triple in the fifth. But Shields, against the Bronx Bombers no less, made it stand up, with help from relievers Brandon Gomes and Kyle Farnsworth.
"You have to outpitch a guy like Sabathia to win the game that night," Maddon said. "James was absolutely fantastic."
The Rays (52-45) needed him to be. The win allowed them to split the series and take some satisfaction in going 4-6 (including two 1-0 losses) in their 10-game All-Star-break spanning gantlet against the Yankees and Red Sox. It also left them 5½ games out of the AL wild card and 7½ from first in the East with 65 to play as they head out on a 10-game road trip that takes them through the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.
"We talked about trying to win this game in order to give us some momentum going forward on the road," Longoria said. "This is one of those defining stretches of the season, where you look to the schedule and say, 'This is kind of a make-or-break point for us.' … We still have plenty of games left, with the amount of games that we're back, to make up ground and continue to push for the postseason."
The win was also important for Shields, who had lost his past four starts, including 1-0 to the Yankees and Sabathia on July 10, the only scoring on Shields' errant pickoff throw.
"That was a good battle tonight," Shields said. "It's nice to come out with a win, especially with what happened last time we faced each other in New York. Anytime you're going to face CC, you're going to go through a battle, and fortunately for us we got just enough runs to win the ball game."
Shields repeated after the game what he said the day before, that he doesn't want to be traded: "This is the team I want to play for."
The Cardinals and Reds have already been identified as interested, and the Tigers surfaced Thursday as another possibility.
The Rays didn't figure to get much against 31st-birthday boy Sabathia, who had won his past seven starts. Longoria's homer, his first in 10 games, gave them a charge and some confidence (they are 38-10 when scoring first). They made it 2-0 in the fifth when Elliot Johnson drew a two-out walk, and Fuld, starting ahead of All-Star Matt Joyce, laced a triple.
Shields took them into the eighth before allowing a run (lowering his ERA to 2.53), then Gomes, the rookie, got one big out (Nick Swisher, with the tying run on second), and Farnsworth the final three.
"I felt," Shields said, "like this was an important game to win."