SEATTLE — The trip was long, the time change challenging, the conditions uncomfortable. And none of that was enough to deter the Rays, who rolled up another victory away from home, beating the Mariners 5-2 on Tuesday.
Forget the six-hour Monday evening flight, the seemingly endless day for the players who woke up way earlier than normal adjusting to West Coast time, or the 48-degree first-pitch temperatures that made it feel like Boston and Chicago all over again.
That's a 10-1 road start for a team, if you're counting, that won only 32 games outside Tropicana Field all of last season, and an overall baseball-best record of 19-7.
"I think anybody is surprised to go 10-1 on the road, especially with our history of being on the road," said starter James Shields, who deserved the bulk of the credit Tuesday. "But I'm not surprised with the kind of baseball that we're playing. There's no doubt. If teams are going to beat us, they're really going to have to beat us.''
The Rays offense still isn't back to where it had been (2-for-12 with runners in scoring position), but it was opportunistic, taking advantage of some sloppy Seattle defense, plus Evan Longoria's team-leading seventh home run. "A team effort,'' Longoria said. "We got some big hits in some big spots.''
Shields came up even bigger, turning in a spectacular performance. He retired 14 of the first 16 (and picked off one of those two, Ichiro Suzuki after a leadoff single), allowed eight hits overall, struck out 10 and worked into the ninth (throwing 110 pitches) to improve to 4-0, with a 3.15 ERA.
"I guess the old man's got to keep up with these youngsters," said Shields, the rotation elder statesman at 28.
Shields was at his best when the Mariners threatened in the sixth. Down 3-0 at the time, Seattle parlayed a double, an infield single and a wild pitch into one run and had the bases loaded for their Nos. 4 and 5 hitters, Milton Bradley and Ken Griffey.
Shields got ahead of Bradley 0-and-2, evened the count and got the tempestuous outfielder — whom the Rays expressed interest in during the winter — looking at a backdoor cutter for strike three, dropping his average to .214. (It also led to Bradley being removed from the game, as the Mariners coaches didn't like how he looked taking two called third strikes.)
Then Shields made even quicker work of Griffey, who suddenly looks every bit of 40 (and a .210 hitter), striking him out on three pitches, the last a nasty change-up.
"That was great to get out of that inning with the two big punchouts," manager Joe Maddon said. "Obviously the turning point of the game."
"A huge inning to get out of,'' Shields said.
After 26 games, the Rays lead the AL with 152 runs for and 82 runs against, a baseball-best differential of plus-70.
"We're playing good baseball right now,'' Shields said. "We're moving runners over, we're getting guys in, we're pitching, our bullpen's been fresh all year, and we're playing good defense. You can put all those together, you're going to win ballgames. And that's the fun part about it.''
They made it even better playing against the Mariners, whose disappointing 11-15 start is due primarily to their startling lack of offense, headlined by their AL-low nine home runs (and none in their past 73 innings). They made it worse for themselves by making four errors (a career-high tying three by shortstop Jack Wilson) and misplaying a few other balls.
Both starters, Shields and Seattle's Jason Vargas, were throwing well and working quickly through the early innings. But the Rays took advantage of a few mistakes to cobble a 3-0 lead.
In the third, it was a two-out walk by Carl Crawford followed by a double by Ben Zobrist.
In the fourth, a one-out walk to Pat Burrell followed by singles by No. 8 hitter Dioner Navarro and No. 9 Reid Brignac.
In the fifth, a one-out, 2-and-2 pitch that Longoria knocked over the leftfield fence, extending his hitting streak to 10 games.
The Mariners kept giving, and the Rays took advantage for another run in the seventh, combining a misplayed infield single, Wilson's third error and a blooper by Willy Aybar that dropped in front of centerfielder Franklin Gutierrez.
Some good hustle on the bases by Dioner Navarro led to the fifth run, as he walked, moved up on a passed ball and a wild pitch and scored on a sac fly.
Maddon was impressed all night with Shields' fastball command, and wanted to give him the chance for acomplete game. But when Shields allowed two singles to start the ninth, Maddon called for Soriano, who allowed one run on a ground out and then finished the job.
The temperature was 48 at first pitch and went down from there, but the Rays didn't appear to be bothered.
"We like the cold weather,'' Maddon said.
But seriously, he said: "We're just going about our business properly right now.''
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.