ST. PETERSBURG — It was just like old times Monday night at Tropicana Field — James Shields was on the mound and the Rays couldn’t score.
How many times have Rays fans seen that? Too many.
Only this time, Shields was the reason for the lack of offense, cooling a lineup that came to life during the road trip that wrapped up Sunday night.
Shields, the former Ray, climbed the Trop’s mound for the first time since his trade to Kansas City and pitched seven shutout innings in the Royals’ 6-0 victory before a crowd of 13,406.
“He was good. We’ve seen that act before,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “Just the wrong uniform this time.”
The Rays remain in fourth place in the AL East, a half-game ahead of the Red Sox, but fell to 9½ games behind the first-place Orioles.
The loss was only the third for the Rays in their past 13 games. Included in that run was the 9-2 trip that ended late Sunday with a win at Detroit. As a result, the Rays’ charter flight didn’t land until after 3 a.m. Monday.
“I want to give our guys a little bit of a mulligan,” Maddon said. “It was like at 4:30 in the morning when I think they all got to sleep coming off a really emotional road trip. Our goal is to win series, and it’s still within our reach.”
It was a fine homecoming for Shields, who pitched for the Rays from 2006-12 and holds the franchise records for wins (87), starts (217), innings (1,4522⁄3), strikeouts (1,250) and shutouts (8).
Hanging from the wall next to his old locker in the Rays’ clubhouse is the sign Shields hung before the 2012 season: “If you don’t like it pitch better.”
The last time Shields pitched at the Trop, he struck out 15 and allowed only two hits, but one was a home run and he lost 1-0. This time, Shields allowed three hits, struck out 10 and didn’t allow a run.
“It’s definitely special coming back here,” Shields said. “There are so many memories. I’ve thrown some shutouts here and also thrown some champagne on the field, as well.”
Using all his pitches, Shields dominated a lineup that scored 56 runs in its previous 11 games and smacked around the Detroit pitching staff over the weekend. He threw a 94-mph fastball past Matt Joyce for a called strike three to end the third inning and used an 80-mph change-up to strike out Sean Rodriguez to start the fifth.
Shields was winless in his previous three starts before Monday, going through what Royals manager Ned Yost called “a little slump.”
“I thought he was great,” Yost said after the game. “Back to being James Shields.”
Perhaps it was the familiar setting.
“When I was warming up in the first inning, it definitely felt comfortable,” Shields said.
Jake Odorizzi, one of the four prospects along with Wil Myers obtained in the December 2012 trade that sent Shields, Wade Davis and eventually Elliot Johnson to Kansas City, faced Shields. Odorizzi allowed two runs on six hits, with both runs coming in the third inning.
Odorizzi pitched well enough to win on another night. It was the 12th time this season the Rays were shut out.
Davis pitched the eighth and retired the Rays in order, striking out two along the way.
“We just do a really nice job of developing pitchers,” Maddon said.