ST. PETERSBURG - James Shields set a franchise record with 15 strikeouts Tuesday. He allowed two hits – one if you thought the infield single was an error, which Shields did. He allowed one run on a very long home run. He threw a complete game.
“That is really the crime of the year right there,” Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “He was brilliant.”
The Rays lost 1-0 to the Baltimore Orioles, managing just two hits to support what Shields called the best outing of his major league career.
“That was the most brilliant performance all year by any of our pitches, and not to get that run really typifies what’s going on,” Maddon said.
And by that Maddon means the year-long offensive woes that cut the legs off a season that began with so much promise, talk of division titles and World Series parades.
It was the fifth time the Rays lost 1-0 this season – all since the All-Star Break.
The 2008 Minnesota Twins are the last team to have five 1-0 losses. The 1976 Texas Rangers had seven.
The Rays have lost 10 games this season when allowing one earned run, the most in the majors since 1991. It was also their American League-high 27th one run loss this season, including their sixth to the Orioles.
Since the beginning of the Live Ball Era (1918), only one other pitcher has lost after striking out at least 15, walking none and allowing one earned run. That was Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets on Sept. 17, 1984 against Philadelphia.
Maddon calls losses like those “mortal sins.” He said the Rays took that a step farther Tuesday.
“It’s like almost original sin there,” Maddon said. “You need pure baptism to get rid of that right there. Dunking in the Jordan River is possibly the only thing that can cleans that one.”
Or, perhaps, an upgrade in offense.
The Rays tried that last offseason, but it didn’t work.
They will try again this offseason, which begins tonight after the final out of the season finale.
The Rays, despite winning 11 of their last 13 games, were eliminated from the playoff race early Tuesday morning when the Oakland A’s beat the Texas Rangers, meaning the best pitching staff in baseball – a major league-low 3.21 ERA – will sit out this October.
The defense was largely to blame during the first half of the season. But it settled down once Evan Longoria returned from his hamstring injury and Ben Zobrist took over at shortstop full time.
The offense, which misfired far too often for a team that has 89 wins, had two decent spurts in the second half. But all that could do was bring the Rays close to a playoff spot.
“Just a little bit upsetting, because I think we’re one of the best teams in the game and we’re playing at that level,” Maddon said. “To not be able to take it to this next playoff round is kind of upsetting, but really proud of our guys, how we finished this season, how we came on how we did, lot of personally accomplishments that are going on, too.
"But the overriding thought is we’re good enough to be there and we’re not, and that’s the part that’s difficult.”
For a team that prides itself on playing meaningful games in the last weeks of the season, Tuesday’s was the first meaningless late-season game the Rays played since 2009.
It had plenty of meaning for the Orioles, who are battling the New York Yankees for the American League East title. It also had plenty of meaning for Shields, who was trying to match his career-high with his 16th victory.
“This is my last game, and I wanted to let it all hang out. I wanted to end on a good note, and ended on a bang,” he said. “Unfortunately I didn’t get the win, but I felt I pitched great.”
It could also have been the final game in a Rays uniform for Shields, who is due to make $9 million next season. He said he wasn’t thinking about that when he took the mound. He also said he hopes to be back next season, pointing out that he is currently a member of the best rotation in baseball.
“I definitely want to be a part of that,” he said.
Shields retired the first 11 batters he faced and the final 10. His 15 strikeouts topped the previous team record of 14, set Aug. 11, 2009 by David Price against the Blue Jays in Toronto.
The lone blemish on the night, and the reason the game didn’t go past the regulation nine innings, was the home run Chris Davis hit off the top of the restaurant in center field in the fourth inning. That broke up Shields’s perfect game and sent the Orioles to their victory.
“I think probably that was probably the best game of my career right there,” Shields said. “It was a good one to end on.”
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