Rays cap wild ride with a walk-off win

Rays cap wild ride with a walk-off win

LAKE BUENA VISTA -- Brendan Harris already had three hits on the night when he stood in the on-deck circle watching the Rangers intentionally walk Dioner Navarro to load the bases in the bottom of the 10th inning.

Harris stepped to the plate looking for a sinker from Rangers right-hander Scott Feldman. With no outs and the score tied at 3, he wanted to stay out of the double play.

And he did, as he threaded a single through a drawn-in infield for his fourth hit of the game to give the Devil Rays a 4-3 win in front of a crowd of 8,443 Tuesday night at the Ballpark at Disney.

"It was nice," Harris said. "I wish we could have gotten it done in nine innings and gotten Shields a win, he's been pitching so well. We really haven't put any runs up for him. It was nice any way we can get [it]. I was happy to get out of there with a win, especially after the road trip."

Rays starter James Shields did deserve a better fate. Once again the right-hander went deep into the game and came away empty handed. Last Wednesday against the Orioles he pitched nine scoreless innings and didn't get the win. Tuesday he gave up three runs in eight innings and got a no-decision.

"Right now he's pitching pretty much at the top of his game and maybe at the top of Major League Baseball," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I'd have to say in the American League he's one of the top pitchers right now. ... I love his composure and his mound presence. And that's a good hitting ball club. Texas has some good offensive players. And once again, [Shields] did a nice job in changing of speeds, fastball command overall, again, was very good.

Quietly, Shields has become the team's best starting pitcher, giving the team one reliable start after the next, and logging away innings like a squirrel stashing acorns. He has now thrown eight or more innings in four of his last five starts. And only Kansas City's Gil Meche has thrown more innings. In addition, Shields did not walk a batter and is averaging just 1.5 walks per nine innings.

"I'm on a roll right now," Shields said. "I'm just trying to keep the team in the ballgame and tonight we got a win. ... I'm pretty confident in my stuff right now. I have to keep on going game by game. You're going to have some confidence if you keep doing some of the things I'm doing right now."

Shields retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced and 11 of his last 12.

"I thought I was making adjustments throughout the game," Shields said. "I didn't feel today [that] I made them as quick as I wanted to. After the fifth inning I changed a few things up, and it worked out of for me."

The Rays could not capitalize when they had opportunities to push across the go-ahead run in the seventh and eighth innings, which could have given Shields the much-earned win. Shields did not sound frustrated.

"That's baseball," Shields said. "That's just the way it goes. All I can do is go out there and do my job and try to keep the team in the game."

The Rays also had a chance to win the game when they loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth. But Ty Wigginton bounced one back to Rangers pitcher Akinori Otsuka, who threw home for a forceout. B.J. Upton then grounded into a fielder's choice to end the inning.

Rays hitters had trouble hitting with runners in scoring position throughout the evening. Despite the walk-off RBI single, the Rays stranded a season-high 14 runners going 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

The game began on a low note for the Rays when Rocco Baldelli grounded out to shortstop to lead off the bottom half of the Rays first. Steps away from reaching the bag, Baldelli pulled up, favoring his left leg. Exercising caution, the Rays removed him from the game and inserted Josh Wilson at third base, prompting Wigginton to move to second and Upton to center field.

The initial diagnosis for the injury is a left hamstring strain, which is not good news for the Rays, considering Baldelli has struggled with hamstring problems over the last two seasons. The extent of his injury is not yet known; he will be re-evaluated Wednesday.

Al Reyes pitched a scoreless ninth and Brian Stokes followed to pitch a scoreless 10th to earn his second win on the season.

"Shields pitched great," Maddon said. "Reyes did his job, Stokesy did his job. We did so many things well tonight. We just could not get the knock at the appropriate moment until the end. But I'll take it."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.