ST. PETERSBURG -- James Shields collected another 27 outs Monday afternoon, chalking up his 11th complete game in Tampa Bay's 5-1 win over Texas at Tropicana Field.
The Rays won their third consecutive game, moving to 77-63 on the season and to within seven games of the Red Sox, who lead the American League Wild Card race.
On Wednesday night, Shields pitched eight scoreless innings against the Rangers in Texas to pick up his 13th win. The Rays right-hander again proved to be a puzzle Rangers hitters had a difficult time solving as he picked up No. 14, tying his career high.
Having to face a Major League lineup after pitching against them less than a week prior often brings a familiarity that can be hazardous to a pitcher's chances for success. Shields altered his approach accordingly.
"I think I used my cutter a little more [today]," Shields said. "I had to give them a little different look. They weren't swinging at my changeup too, too much. I mixed pitches up well. I used all four pitches and mixed them up."
By the end of Monday afternoon's game, the only remaining suspense came when Shields took the mound in the ninth: Would he finish the game or not?
That possibility immediately appeared in doubt when Elvis Andrus walked to open the inning and moved to second on defensive indifference. Josh Hamilton then grounded back to Shields, who took a quick look to third before throwing to Casey Kotchman to take the sure out at first.
"Of course he wants a shutout, but you've got to get an out there," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Just get the out and move it along -- if you don't get the shutout, big deal. And I know he was upset about that, but he did the right thing."
Michael Young grounded to short for the second out, allowing Andrus to score and snapping Shields' club-record scoreless-innings streak at 23. But getting the out left him one away from yet another complete game.
Adrian Beltre would be the final hitter Shields faced whether he retired him or not, and most of the crowd of 13,130 fans stuck around to see if that would happen.
"I knew it was my last hitter -- my pitch count was getting up there and I was throwing some really good pitches to Beltre, and he just kept fouling them off, fouling them off, and I'm just going, 'Man, hit it already,'" Shields said. "I decided to throw a completely different pitch than I had the whole at-bat."
Beltre flew out to right field. Shields pounded his glove in a brief gesture of self-satisfaction, the Rays had their win, and Shields became the first pitcher to have 11 complete games in a season since Randy Johnson had 12 for Arizona in 1999.
Included in Shields' outing was his first-inning strikeout of Josh Hamilton, which gave Shields 200 strikeouts for the season. By doing so, Shields joined Scott Kazmir as the only pitchers in Rays history to strike out 200 in a season.
"He's got a good changeup, period," said Hamilton. "When you've got a good changeup, 90 [mph] looks like 96 -- it looks so good to hit, but it drops off the table. He keeps it out of the strike zone, makes it look like it's going to be in the strike zone, starts in the strike zone. I think he gave me one all day, waist high, and I fouled it off. It's tough. You just have to make adjustments."
Shields' complete game came a day after Jeremy Hellickson pitched a complete game against the Orioles, which further magnified the contribution by the team's starting rotation this season.
"Honestly, we've talked about it," Maddon said. "We've done a lot of good things this year. But a lot of those good things we're doing this year and the fact that our record is 14 over .500 right now is because of our starting pitching. There's no hiding that fact."
Shields noted that he was "so proud" of the team's starting five.
"We've been doing a tremendous job all year long," Shields said. "We've been staying as consistent as any team out there. And we're having fun with it. At the end of the game, all I was looking for was those [four] guys, and it was pretty special."
Tampa Bay's offense got off to a good start in the first, when Evan Longoria homered off Rangers starter Scott Feldman with two outs for a 1-0 Rays lead.
Casey Kotchman singled home two in the fourth and later in the inning, Sean Rodriguez scored before the Rangers could complete an inning-ending double play to give the Rays a 4-0 lead. On the double play, Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland touched first to retire John Jaso before throwing to second to get the sliding Kotchman. By initially tagging first base, the Rangers took off the force, which allowed Rodriguez to score before Kotchman was tagged out.
B.J. Upton added a solo home run in the seventh to put the Rays up, 5-0.
Monday's win gave Maddon the 500th of his managerial career (including a 19-10 interim stint with the Angels in 1999). He deferred all credit to the players he has had while at the Rays' helm. Mostly, Maddon marveled at Shields and what he has accomplished this summer.
"I've not been a part of it anywhere, to see that kind of starting pitching," Maddon said. "Minor Leagues, Major Leagues, anywhere. I've not seen in person. Of course you have to go back and put the video on the '60s to see something like that, probably. ... It's usual, very unusual to see this. It's quite a pleasure to see."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.