ST. PETERSBURG — With a playoff berth nearly secured, the Rays were hoping to have a champagne celebration late Sunday night.
But the last-place Mariners foiled those plans by dinner time, thanks to a former Devil Ray.
Josh Wilson's three-run homer in the sixth inning broke a tie and lifted Seattle to a 6-2 win over Tampa Bay in front of 22,301 at Tropicana Field. The Rays had needed a win and a Red Sox loss to the Yankees later at night to clinch a postseason spot. If both occurred, players had planned to gather back at the Trop.
New York beat Boston 4-3 in 10 innings, but the party still had to wait. The Rays (93-62), who still boast the majors' best record and hold a half-game lead over the Yankees in the AL East, host Baltimore tonight needing only a win or a Boston loss to clinch. The Red Sox visit the White Sox.
"The upside is, obviously, if we get to do it (tonight), it will be with the fans," infielder Sean Rodriguez said. "They can enjoy it with us instead of just coming back by ourselves."
The loss was especially tough for Rays right-hander James Shields (13-14). Shields, who opened the game with four scoreless innings, allowed two runs in the fifth then, after the Rays rallied to tie it in the bottom half, gave it right back in the sixth.
That's when, one pitch after Shields set a personal record with his 185th strikeout, he etched his name in the part of the Rays record books he likely wanted to avoid. Wilson's two-out, three-run homer — just his seventh in his career — was the 34th Shields has allowed this season, passing Tanyon Sturtze (2002) for the most in club history.
Shields planned to throw a fastball inside, but it saw too much of the plate.
"Home runs don't bother me as much as me being (able) to execute my pitches when I need to," said Shields, who gave up eight hits over six innings. "This year, there's been a lot of situations where it could be a lot better, just like (Sunday). This is a crucial situation, tie ball game, two outs and I got the nine-hole hitter up, and if I execute my pitch right there, we're out of the ball game, the momentum is in our hands, and we probably win the game."
It continued what Shields called a "frustrating season." Despite closing in on 200 innings for the fourth year in a row, Shields' 5.04 ERA is the highest it has been this year, and he has given up at least five runs in four of his past five outings.
Manager Joe Maddon said Shields is fine physically, his stuff is "really good" and his velocity is "as good as I've seen it."
"All his weapons are in good shape, it's just about making the pitch when you have to," Maddon said.
The Rays fielded an atypical lineup, with rookie Desmond Jennings in left and Kelly Shoppach at DH. But Maddon felt that if the score had remained tied after the Mariners sixth, the Rays had a pretty good chance of winning. And he wouldn't have minded coming back hours later from his South Tampa condo to celebrate if the situation presented itself.
"I'd have been so happy to do that," Maddon said. "I would have driven the convertible down, would have done that and slept on the couch (in the clubhouse). But we'll wait until (tonight)."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.
1 Combination of Rays wins and Red Sox losses needed to clinch a postseason berth.
7 Combination of Rays wins and Yankees losses needed to clinch the AL East championship.