ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Tampa Bay wasted an overpowering pitching performance by James Shields on Tuesday night.
Chris Davis homered for the sixth straight game and the Baltimore Orioles overcame a club-record 15 strikeouts by Shields to beat the Rays 1-0, pushing the AL East race to the final day of the season.
“That is really the crime of the year right there,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “Great fastball. Great changeup. That’s as good as I’ve ever seen him. They were all in it tonight. There’s no letup with that group. That makes it more impressive.”
Baltimore remained one game behind the first-place New York Yankees, who rallied late to beat Boston 4-3 in 12 innings.
Shields retired nine in a row before giving up Davis’ 33rd homer, a long drive to center.
“I hung a changeup,” Shields said. “He’s a pretty good hitter. I think that was probably the farthest home run I’ve ever given up in my career. I sent the bat boy over and told him to tell him, ‘Can you hit it any farther?’ Just joking around a little bit. He said something like, ‘I’m sorry. I’ll go and try and hit it 480 feet next time.’ I thought that was pretty funny.”
Shields whiffed seven of the last nine batters he faced to finish with a flourish.
“I knew this was my last game and I wanted to let it all hang out,” Shields said. “I wanted to end on a good note, end on a bang. That was probably the best game of my career.”
Tampa Bay said Shields became the first pitcher since at least 1918 to take a loss while striking out 15 or more with no walks and two hits allowed or less.
“He was brilliant,” Maddon said.
Davis joined Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson as the only Baltimore players to homer in six consecutive games, connecting off Shields (15-10) in the fourth. The Orioles managed only one other hit — Nate McLouth’s sixth-inning infield single — in Shields’ 19th career complete game and third this season.
The Orioles, guaranteed at least a wild-card spot, clinched their first playoff berth in 15 years late Sunday. They need a victory Wednesday and a Yankees loss to force a one-game tiebreaker for the division title Thursday at Camden Yards.
Baltimore rookie Miguel Gonzalez (9-4) limited the Rays to two singles over 6 1-3 innings. The right-hander walked two and struck out seven before manager Buck Showalter turned the game over to the bullpen.
The Rays have lost 1-0 five times since Aug. 5 — twice to the Orioles.
“It’s tough to watch that,” Maddon said. “Those are very difficult because you get that kind of pitching, it’s very hard to understand how all this has really come to bear.”
Tampa Bay won the opener of the three-game series Monday night to extend a late surge that kept them in contention for the second AL wild card, but the Rays were eliminated from postseason contention when the Oakland Athletics beat Texas a few hours later to assure themselves a trip to the postseason.
Brian Matusz replaced Gonzalez after the starter struck out Jeff Keppinger to begin the seventh. Darren O’Day worked the eighth for the Orioles, and Jim Johnson finished the two-hitter for his major league-leading 51st save.
Gonzalez pitched seven scoreless innings in his only previous start at Tropicana Field on Aug. 5, but was not involved in the decision in a game the Orioles won 1-0 in 10 innings. He limited the Rays to two hits and four walks in that outing and was even tougher on them this time.
Evan Longoria singled leading off the second against the right-hander. B.J. Upton drew a leadoff walk in the fourth and was stranded at second when Longoria flied out and Keppinger struck out. Chris Gimenez opened the sixth with Tampa Bay’s second hit, and Gonzalez walked Ben Zobrist with two outs before fanning Longoria to end the threat.
NOTES: All-Star closer Fernando Rodney was selected as the Rays’ team MVP in a vote of local baseball writers covering the team. If the right-hander doesn’t give up an earned run in Wednesday night’s season finale, he will set a major league record for the lowest ERA by a relief pitcher working a minimum of 50 innings. Rodney got his 47th save Monday, lowering his ERA to 0.6053 in 74 1-3 innings. Dennis Eckersley set the record of 0.6136 for Oakland in 1990. … Rays pitchers have struck out 10 or more batters in a game 60 times this season.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.