ST. PETERSBURG — RHP James Shields may not have gone the distance Wednesday, snapping his spectacular streak of three compete games.
But he was far from disappointed, having delivered another strong performance, allowing four runs and striking out 10 in a hard-luck loss to the Reds.
"I think (Wednesday), I had a couple innings where I threw about 20 pitches," Shields said. "That kind of killed me a little bit. I threw seven strong, that's my goal, to go seven to nine and try to get a quality start. Unfortunately I was one pitch away from a quality start, but I hung in there."
Shields (8-5), who walked two in a 104-pitch performance, made a few mistakes, including a hanging curveball that Ryan Hanigan turned into a three-run homer in the fourth and a Fred Lewis RBI single in the seventh.
"I think I was two pitches away from having a shutout," he said. "That's kind of the way the game works."
But it didn't make Shields' recent run any less impressive, with his major league-high six complete games making him worthy of the nickname of "Complete Game James," according to manager Joe Maddon.
"It's all wonderful," Maddon said. "I like 'Complete Game Dave (Price),' 'Complete Game Jeff (Niemann),' 'Complete Game Wade (Davis) and Jeremy (Hellickson)' would be awesome, too. I want them all to throw complete games, but obviously recently Shieldsy has done a wonderful job of that, and it's kind of been unusual, especially in baseball in this day and age where you don't see it very often."
MILESTONE: DH Johnny Damon, a former Red Sox, said of all the players he's catching on the all-time hits list, matching a sentimental favorite, Hall of Famer Ted Williams, would mean the most to him.
And after Damon's bloop single to rightfield in the sixth helped him tie Williams for 71st place (2,654), he received a standing ovation as the record was flashed on the JumboTron.
"Teddy Ballgame, the greatest hitter of all time," Damon said. "It's tremendous company, and I'm thrilled about that. And I'll be thrilled when I pass him also."
Shields said just to see Williams' name on the scoreboard was "surreal." Williams was a six-time batting champion who was the last to hit better than .400 (.406 in 1941).
"It's absolutely impressive what he's done in this game, and what he's done for the game of baseball," Shields said of Damon.
Damon, a two-time World Series champ signed in the offseason, has provided leadership and production, hitting .273 with nine homers and a team-high 12 go-ahead or tying RBIs.
Said 3B Evan Longoria: "He's probably the biggest contributor both on and off the field for this club."
IN THE SWING: CF B.J. Upton continued his power surge with a solo homer in the seventh, his fourth homer in his past six games after hitting one in his previous 30.
Maddon has liked what he has seen from Upton's overall game, with 11 homers and 13 steals and strong defense in center.
"I think overall it's been a little bit better than it had been last season," Maddon said. "Everyone is going to look at the batting average (.223) and make their assessments. I just think he's maturing as a player, and he's going to keep getting better."
MINOR MATTERS: Montgomery SS Tim Beckham, the 2008 top pick, was added to the U.S. roster for the Futures Game, joining a couple of fellow Rays prospects, LHP Matt Moore and SS Hak-Ju Lee, in the July 10 game in Phoenix. … Durham OF Desmond Jennings, one of the Rays' top prospects, hasn't started in four games due to a sore wrist, according to the Durham Herald-Sun.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.