ST. PETERSBURG -- Before Sunday's start, James Shields said "it would be nice to replicate" his last outing against the Marlins, in which he turned in a shutout and tied a franchise record with 13 strikeouts.
What seemed to be wishful thinking turned into reality for Shields.
The right-hander picked up his fifth complete game of the season to power the Rays to a sweep of the struggling Marlins in a 2-1 victory Sunday at Tropicana Field. Shields had turned in just five complete games in 151 career starts entering this season.
"Over the last couple of years, I haven't had any [complete games]," Shields said. "This year I told [manager] Joe [Maddon], 'I'm ready to finish some ballgames.' It was one of the pieces of the puzzle that was missing for me."
Although Shields didn't tie the franchise record for strikeouts like he did in his previous start against the Marlins, he hit another milestone by tying the team record for complete games in a season. The Phillies are the only team with more complete games than Shields this season.
In the process of accomplishing that feat, the Rays pitcher struck out 10 batters, and the lone run he allowed was unearned because of an error by third baseman Evan Longoria.
Despite owning a 2.40 ERA, the third lowest in the American League, Shields' record is 7-4 due to Tampa Bay's offense scoring just 2.72 runs per nine innings in his starts.
"If that [performance] doesn't put him in the All-Star Game, I don't know what does," Maddon said. "Five complete games prior to the All-Star break, that doesn't happen every year. It's the way he has done it, too. You look at his record, and it's a bit deceiving."
The win capped off a 4-2 homestead and gave Tampa Bay its first sweep at Tropicana Field this season.
But it didn't come easy.
Marlins starting pitcher Chris Volstad didn't back down from Shields, keeping the game tied at 1 through seven frames. However, Florida's bullpen let him down in the eighth.
Right fielder Matt Joyce led off the inning with a single off reliever Ryan Webb, and he moved over to second on a groundout by Longoria.
After leaving the bases loaded in the fourth inning, Casey Kotchman made sure to take advantage with a runner in scoring position this time around. He brought in his hands to slap a single off former Rays southpaw Randy Choate down the left-field line to bring home the winning run from second base and help hand Shields the win he deserved.
"We're spoiled," Kotchman said. "He's throwing nine innings and shutting people out and giving us a chance to win. He's up there with the elite, and we were able to get enough runs for him."
Kotchman's hit was just the fourth a left-hander has managed against Choate this season.
"When it rains, it pours," Choate said. "You can use every cliche in the book. I felt I had him beat. They get paid to hit, like I get paid to pitch. Somehow he kept it inside the line. I'm not even quite sure how, because if I put it any more inside, it would have hit him."
Although Tampa Bay committed two errors -- both by Longoria -- the club's defense drew a standing ovation in the eighth when left fielder Sam Fuld made two diving catches. The first stole an extra-base hit from Omar Infante, and the second ended the inning.
"It had been a little while since I had done something like that," Fuld said. "Those sort of things tend to happen in bunches for whatever reason. ... You never expect to do something like that twice in one inning."
The Rays improved to 9-4 in their last 13 games, while the Marlins are heading in the other direction, having lost 10 consecutive games and searching for a manager after Edwin Rodriguez resigned Sunday morning.
"We were 4 1/2 [games out of first place] going into today," Shields said. "We want to stay in the hunt. ... If we keep pitching and get some timely hitting, we're going to win a bunch of ballgames this year."
Anthony Chiang is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.