SEATTLE — It would have to be a rare day for Tampa Bay Rays ace James Shields to pitch as well as he did, allowing only a second-pitch-of-the-game homer to Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki, and lose.
And it was.
The Tampa Bay Rays' 1-0 loss Thursday marked only the 22nd time in major-league history that a leadoff home run was the only run in a game and just the third time in the past 15 years.
But the historical significance didn't make it any less frustrating for a Tampa Bay Rays team that lost for the seventh time in nine games, dropped a fourth straight series and extended its slow start to 6-10.
"Yes, it was frustrating," Shields said. "We got a loss today, and that's all I care about, whether I pitch well or not. My job is to go out there and win ball games, and I just got out-pitched."
Not by much, obviously, but Seattle starter Felix Hernandez was just a bit better — "By one point, by one pitch actually," Rays manager Joe Maddon said — allowing just four singles and foiling whatever opportunities that arose.
"He was king of the hill tonight," Shields said.
The only mistake Shields made was a 1-and-0 fastball to Suzuki that was supposed to be down and away and ended up over the middle of the plate. It's not the kind of thing you'd expect to determine a game.
"Second pitch of the inning, it's kind of … you're not really expecting him to … I left the ball up and he got it," Shields said.
Suzuki, who'd hit 27 previous leadoff homers, said he wasn't looking for one then: "No way." Maddon said he could tell early Hernandez was on by how consistently he kept his pitches down. "It was going to be difficult, I could really sense that," Maddon said. "He wasn't making any mistakes."
"The movement Hernandez had on his fastball was a bad sign, too," B.J. Upton said. "He didn't really let us square him up today."
As if Hernandez, a 23-year-old ace, wasn't tough enough, the Rays had to contend with the cold temperatures and the odd shadows cast across the Safeco Field infield as a result of the late afternoon start.
Maddon deemed it "an inappropriate way to play that game based on the sun and the shadows, etc." He suggested the retractable roof should be closed for any other 3:40 starts.
Upton said it was a challenge.
"I'd never seen it. Just around the mound was light, it was dark behind him and dark in front of you," he said. "Initially you saw it out of the hand, and after that you didn't really see it."
The Rays had, basically, three chances to score:
First and third with one out in the second. Maddon was "looking to do something," perhaps a squeeze, but didn't get the count he wanted to call it. Dioner Navarro struck out, and Akinori Iwamura flied out.
First and second with one out in the fourth, after two walks. Navarro swung at the first pitch and flied out to center, and Iwamura grounded out.
Man on second with one out in the ninth against closer Brandon Morrow. Ben Zobrist popped out, and Navarro flied out.
"It's tough to lose period, but when you get that kind of effort from your starter, you'd like to be able to at least scrape one across," DH Pat Burrell said. "So it's frustrating, especially the way things have been going."
"When the leadoff hitter decides the game," Maddon said, "it's just one of those days."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]