ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The way Tampa Bay’s bullpen has been performing, right-hander James Shields didn’t have to be as sharp as usual to get his AL-leading fifth victory.
Sean Rodriguez and Luke Scott homered for the AL East leaders, and Shields (5-0) weathered a rocky first inning to remain unbeaten with a 5-4 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday night.
Joel Peralta came out of the bullpen to shut down a Seattle threat in the eighth, then worked a perfect ninth for his first save of the season.
“He picked up a real big-league save there with five outs. That was spectacular,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Hats off to Joel Peralta. Everything else that happened well or good tonight, it was all about him. He permitted us to win the game.”
Shields allowed four runs and five hits, walked four and struck out 11 over six innings to win his sixth straight decision over two seasons, matching the longest winning streak of his career. Kyle Seager homered twice off the 2011 All-Star, driving in all of Seattle’s runs.
Over Tampa Bay’s last 10 games, the bullpen is 2-0 with a 1.45 ERA, 39 strikeouts and five saves. Opponents have 21 hits and scored five earned runs in 31 innings during the stretch.
“We fought until the last out of the game. That’s what our team is about, and what we’ve been doing all season,” Shields said. “And again, our bullpen was phenomenal.”
Rodriguez hit a two-run homer off Blake Beavan (1-4) in the third inning. Scott’s solo shot off the Seattle starter glanced off center fielder Michael Saunders’ glove before clearing the wall to snap a 4-4 tie in the sixth.
“To be honest, I don’t really know what happened there,” Saunders said. “I know I got a piece of the ball. That’s it. … It was just one of those plays that happened so fast. I hit the wall and came down without the ball.”
The Rays won for the 10th time in 11 games. The Mariners have lost a season-high five straight following a four-game winning streak that included a sweep of Detroit to begin a 10-game, 10-day trip that ends Thursday.
Ichiro Suzuki walked and Jesus Montero reached base on an infield single before Seager’s three-run, first-inning homer snapped an 0-for-30 drought with runners in scoring position for the Mariners, who lost the first two games of this four-game series despite outhitting theRays both nights.
Seager’s third homer of the season, a solo shot into the right-field stands, wiped out a 4-3 lead the Rays took on Jose Molina’s two-run double in the fourth.
Shields won again, though he was far from his best. Despite posting a season high for strikeouts, his four walks also were a season high and the right-hander allowed a pair of homers for the second straight start. He threw 38 pitches in the first inning — 119 overall — before turning over a one-run lead to the bullpen.
Peralta got Alex Liddi to foul out on a 3-2 pitch, then Ben Zobrist made a nice running catch in the right field corner on Justin Smoak’s fly ball to shut down the Mariners with the potential tying run on third base in the eighth. With closer Fernando Rodney unavailable because he pitched three consecutive days, Peralta fanned two of three batters in the ninth to pick up his ninth career save.
“Shields usually gives us eight or nine innings. Today he didn’t,” Peralta said. “The bullpen felt like we’ve had to back him up, keep the lead and get that win for him.”
NOTES: With 3B Evan Longoria sidelined up to two months with a partially torn left hamstring, Maddon at least temporarily plans to fill the three-time All-Star’s position by committee. Will Rhymes started at third base after Elliot Johnson filled in for most of the previous two games. Maddon said Jeff Keppinger and Rodriguez, Tampa Bay’s regular shortstop, also could get some starts there. “It’s possible to pick somebody,” to start on a regular basis, Maddon said. “But I really would anticipate it’s going to be a revolving door. … The slumping Smoak was dropped from fourth to seventh in the batting order as the designated hitter Wednesday night. He could remain in the No. 7 hole for a while, however manager Eric Wedge stressed that he eventually wants Smoak to return to the middle of the lineup. “I’ve always been one of his biggest fans. I know he’s going to get it done. But right now, he’s not getting it done. We’re in the business of winning ball games here, so I had to make an adjustment.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.