ST. PETERSBURG -- All square!
Tampa Bay did what it had to do on Monday night in taking a 5-2 win over the Yankees at Tropicana Field. Now, the team that trailed the Red Sox by nine games on Sept. 2 suddenly controls its own destiny.
"Our fate's in our own hands now," said James Shields, who started for the Rays and earned his 16th win of the season with 8 2/3 stellar innings. "We don't have to worry about the Red Sox losing now."
By winning, the Rays moved to 89-71 on the season, and when the Red Sox lost at Baltimore moments later, Tampa Bay pulled even with Boston atop the American League Wild Card standings.
A crowd of 18,772 paid attention to the scoreboard and responded throughout the game to the happy news from Baltimore.
"They're cheering for the scoreboard, which doesn't happen really often when you're at a ballpark," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "That's a little bit different. ... I actually saw one of their players look at the scoreboard when there was a loud cheer today. That probably wouldn't happen on a normal day. And they should be excited."
Minutes after the Rays' win, manager Joe Maddon sat in his office and waited until he heard a roar from inside the clubhouse that told him the news he wanted to hear from Baltimore.
"I was pleased," Maddon said. "The way the guys are rallying around this moment -- which you expect, but they really are -- it's fun to watch. Actually, it's kind of fun to sit in here and listen, as opposed to being out there. You can really hear the different voices scream and the joy about what's going on. It's fantastic."
Shields allowed two Yankees runs on six hits, missing his 12th complete game of the season by one out. Nevertheless, he still has more complete games this season than 26 Major League teams.
Shields has "been a tough guy from the time that I've met him," Maddon said. "I think that he has been able to learn to channel his emotions a little better. He's always been emotional, and sometimes that would get in the way. Now, he's able to feed that emotion into performance, and you're seeing him having a wonderful year. He's really a Cy Young candidate. I know what [Tigers 24-game-winner Justin] Verlander has done. But James' name has to be mentioned very well up there also."
Shields had to endure some choppy water in the early going before finding his way.
Robinson Cano entered the game with a history of success against Shields. In 53 at-bats against the right-hander, Cano had a .377 average with three home runs and nine RBIs. He continued his run of success by hitting a solo home run and an RBI single in his first two at-bats to stake the Yankees to a 2-0 lead.
"The homer, I wanted to throw a cutter up and in," Shields said. "I left it right down the middle. ... The first three innings, my mechanics were off. I was jumping at the hitter. My stride was about a foot longer than it normally is. I had a talk with [pitching coach Jim Hickey] after the third inning, and he was telling me how big my stride was -- 'Just kind of keep things a little more simple.' I think that was the big difference."
Shields has accrued an amazing 249 1/3 innings this season, and he lowered his ERA to 2.82 in his final regular-season start, representing a remarkable turnaround for the right-hander, who went 13-15 with a 5.18 ERA in 2010.
"You look back at my whole year, I'm very happy about the way I came back after last year," Shields said. "It's been a phenomenal year so far. But I'll worry about that when the season's over and I'm watching some football."
B.J. Upton doubled home two in the third off Yankees starter Hector Noesi. One out later, Johnny Damon singled off Raul Valdes to bring home Upton. Not only did Damon's single put the Rays up, 3-2, it gave Damon 2,721 hits, pulling him even with Lou Gehrig for 57th place on the all-time hits list.
Kelly Shoppach homered for the second time in as many days when he connected off of Valdes in the fourth for his 11th of the season, and Damon added a sacrifice fly in the seventh to finish the scoring.
Desmond Jennings made the play of the game when Derek Jeter hit a ball deep to left field leading off the fifth. The Rays left fielder tracked down the drive and dove toward the wall to make the catch at the wall, with the ball sticking out of his glove like a sno-cone.
"That's a game-changer," said Shields of Jennings' catch. "We're up, 4-2, at that point. Jeter's the leadoff hitter, and he goes out and gets that ball. That's a huge part of the game right there."
The Yankees used six pitchers and a lineup that did not include Nick Swisher or Mark Teixeira. Still, Maddon complimented the Yankees for the way they have gone about their business since clinching the AL East on Wednesday.
"I've got to give them a lot of credit," Maddon said. "I watched them a little bit over the weekend and I watched them tonight. These guys are not mailing anything in at this point. They're playing. They're playing their typical game. They're tough. They're very, very tough. They deserved to have won 97 games this year. They're a very good ballclub. And even their J.V. team is pretty good, too."
Two games against the Yankees will now determine the Rays' season. They will send out Jeremy Hellickson to start on Tuesday and David Price on Wednesday.
"This is what we wanted," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "This is the situation we've been looking forward to being in the whole season. For it to come down to two games for us to play in the postseason, this is what it's all about."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.