Shields fans 12 in Rays’ victory
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla (AP) – The Tampa Bay Rays are off to the best start in franchise history and showing no signs of slowing down.
They see no reason they can’t keep rolling.
“Everything’s obviously working well right now,” manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday night after Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena homered to back right-hander James Shields in a 10-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics.
The Rays have won 13 of 15, improving the best record in baseball to 16-5.
Although Maddon said it’s unrealistic to expect his team to maintain a .762 winning percentage over the long haul, he thinks the team has the type of attitude and work ethic needed to get back to the playoffs.
“We’re capable of playing this way. It’s not like a fluke,” Maddon said. “We’re very capable of this. We just have to keep our minds right, and we’ll be fine.”
Shields struck out 12 in seven innings and Longoria and Pena drove in two runs apiece to sweep a two-game series that drew disappointing crowds of 10,825 and 10,691 to Tropicana Field.
Shields (3-0) allowed a first-inning home run, then limited the A’s to five hits and an unearned run over the next six innings. The right-hander walked one and matched his career high for strikeouts.
Longoria and Pena led off the sixth with consecutive homers off reliever Brad Kilby. They also drove in runs off starter Dallas Braden (3-1) during Tampa Bay’s six-run fifth inning.
“Someone apparently didn’t tell the Rays that (batting practice) was over when they took the cage off the field,” Braden said. “They just kept hacking.”
Once again, Tampa Bay’s production was spread throughout the lineup.
The Rays, who’ve outscored opponents 109-41 over the past 15 games, had a season-high 14 hits. They’ve also taken over the major league lead in runs scored (131) while setting a franchise record for victories in April.
They went 9-14 in the opening month of 2009 and were unable to overcome the slow start after reaching the World Series the previous season.
“I love the fact that everything’s been spread out,” Maddon said of the offense. “From one through nine, everybody’s being productive in their own way. There’s no break in our lineup, right now, for the opposition.”
Daric Barton ended a career-longest, 41-game homerless streak with his first-inning shot off Shields. But the Oakland first baseman also committed two errors, and each allowed a run to score.
Shields gave up an unearned run on shortstop Jason Bartlett’s fourth-inning throwing error. Oakland’s Adam Rosales hit a solo homer off reliever Andy Sonnanstine in the ninth.
The A’s wasted opportunities to get to Shields in the fourth and fifth, going 0 for 6 and striking out five times with runners in scoring position in those innings. Eric Patterson also was thrown out at the plate attempting to score from first base on Rosales’ double down the left field line.
Oakland manager Bob Geren held a brief team meeting after the game to discuss the sloppy play.
“I just said a couple things. I didn’t like what I saw tonight. I’ve liked what we’ve seen for about 20 games. … Tonight, I didn’t like it,” Geren said. “I don’t think anybody in that room likes the way they played tonight. We’re going to move on to tomorrow.”
Tampa Bay pulled away from a 2-2 tie in the fifth, with help from a wild pitch with the bases loaded and a second error by Barton that allowed a run to score. The Rays went ahead on Longoria’s RBI double off Braden, and Pena, pinch hitter Reid Brignac and John Jaso also drove in runs in the inning.
Braden, trying to become the first Oakland pitcher to go 4-0 in April since Mike Moore in 1992, allowed six runs and eight hits in four-plus innings. Entering the game, he had limited opponents to a .198 batting average, sixth lowest in the AL.
“I did exactly what their guy did not do, and hats off to him,” Braden said. “He got the big strikeouts when he needed them. He got the outs when he needed them. … I didn’t show that tonight. I didn’t get my team back into the dugout quickly enough.”
Notes: Rays C Dioner Navarro finished a two-game suspension for bumping an umpire during an argument. … Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon received a hoodie in the mail from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, which he plans to display in his office. “It’s very cool,” Maddon said. He plans to send Belichick a Tampa Bay hoodie like the one MLB briefly banned him from wearing last week before changing its mind. … Oakland LHP Brett Anderson (left arm strained flexor) will be kept from throwing for two weeks. He was placed on the 15-day DL on Tuesday. … Rays LHP J.P Howell (strained left shoulder) threw 30 pitches in his first bullpen session. He will increase the total to 35-40 on Friday and is targeting a return in about one month. … Oakland C Kurt Suzuki (left side soreness) was in the original starting lineup but was scratched after batting practice. He has missed four straight games.