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TB@TEX: Shields outstanding over eight shutout frames

ARLINGTON -- Breaking news: "Complete Game" James did not go the distance.

However, while James Shields did not record his 11th complete game of the season Wednesday night, he did manage to post eight scoreless innings to lead a 4-1 Rays win over the Rangers at Rangers Ballpark with 28,034 watching.

By winning, the Rays snapped a two-game losing streak while moving to 74-61 on the season. With the Yankees taking a 9-5 loss to the Red Sox, Tampa Bay moved to within 7 1/2 games of the American League Wild Card leaders.

"We've got to win, we've got to win," Shields said. "I mean, the starters have been doing a phenomenal job. Our bullpen has been fresh. They've been doing a great job. Our defense has been playing well. That's all you can ask for right now.

"We've been scattering runs here and there and we've been hitting the ball a lot better lately. That definitely gives us hope to win a lot of ballgames here in September."

Tampa Bay and Shields appeared to be headed for a rough night the way the first inning unfolded. Texas loaded the bases with one out when Elvis Andrus and Josh Hamilton had back-to-back singles and Michael Young drew a walk. But Mike Napoli grounded into a 5-4-3 double play to save Shields.

"Napoli's not a double-play candidate as far as hitting ground balls," Shields said. "He's a fly ball hitter. So I really had to be real fine with my pitches right there, and I threw a slider down and away and he ended up rolling it over. And we've got a Gold Glover over there at third base."

Shields received a major boost from the play.

"Normally you don't get in that situation in the first inning, but I was pumped," Shields said. "[I] had a little glove pound there at the end and went on my way."

Building on the momentum created by escaping the jam, the Rays scored two runs in the second on an RBI single by John Jaso and a bases-loaded walk to Desmond Jennings.

Matt Joyce added an RBI single in the third to drive Rangers starter Alexi Ogando from the game while putting the Rays up, 3-0.

Meantime, Shields retired the next 14 hitters he faced after the first inning. Andrus finally broke the spell with a two-out triple in the sixth. Shields recovered to strike out Hamilton swinging to end the frame.

"After that first inning right there where we didn't get him, he started pitching," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "He really did a great job, changed speeds, kept us off balance."

Johnny Damon homered off Koji Uehara with one out in the seventh, giving him 14 for the season and pushing the Rays' lead to 4-0.

Shields finished the eighth with 110 pitches, which convinced manager Joe Maddon to pull his starter prior to the ninth.

"That was pretty much the limit under the circumstances," Maddon said. "His last game was 125. [It was] a little bit warm out there tonight. He pitched a great game once again, so it was pretty much the right thing to do at that moment."

Kyle Farnsworth pitched the ninth, making his first appearance since Aug. 23. The righty retired the first two hitters he faced before getting into a little bit of trouble that resulted in David Murphy driving home the Rangers' only run with a single. Farnsworth then faced the potential tying run in Yorvit Torrealba, but the Rays' closer struck him out swinging to end the game.

Shields moved to 13-10 on the season while compiling his 22nd quality start. He struck out five of the final eight batters he faced -- including Murphy to end the seventh, giving Shields his 1,000th career strikeout.

"I'm pretty proud of that," Shields said. "I've never considered myself a strikeout pitcher, but to be able to get 1,000 strikeouts is special."

Shields has made 12 starts in which he has pitched eight innings or more this season, which ranks second in the Major Leagues behind Detroit's Justin Verlander. That has Maddon believing Shields belongs in the same company as Verlander when discussing the AL's top pitcher.

"He could easily have 16 or 17 wins, which would really put him much stronger into the Cy Young conversation," Maddon said. "But he definitely has to be in that conversation."

AL Cy Young Award talk aside, Maddon particularly liked the way Shields handled a tough Rangers team in the sweltering Texas heat.

"He pitched kind of his normal game," Maddon said. "It's hard to do that here against this ballclub under these circumstances with the warm air and the wind kind of kicking out. ... That's who he is. You can see he wanted to do that. It was all about pitching deep into that game." Comments