Rays' rally ends just short vs. D-backs

Rays' rally ends just short vs. D-backs

PHOENIX -- James Shields has had enough of National League baseball.

For the second time in a week, the Devil Rays right-hander trailed in a game and had to be lifted for a pinch-hitter earlier than he normally would have if he wasn't hitting. Shields received his first loss of the season on Friday night at Coors Field in Denver; and on Wednesday afternoon at Chase Field, he took his second defeat when the Diamondbacks defeated the Rays, 7-4, in front of a crowd of 31,805.

Shields left the game against the Rockies after six innings and 86 pitches, and he left the game against the Diamondbacks after the fifth with 80 pitches under his belt. All season he has been a horse for the Rays, normally going seven or eight innings with a pitch count exceeding 100.

"I'm over [National League baseball]," said Shields, managing a little chuckle despite taking the loss hard. "When you're going seven or eight innings each outing and you get pulled [after] 80 pitches two times in row, it's tough to swallow."

For more than a month, Rays pitchers have been talking hitting in advance of their Interleague schedule. And the team's pitchers hit well, establishing a new Major League single-season record for most hits by an American League team's pitchers in Interleague Play. Shields is generally regarded as the team's best-hitting pitcher and it was his first hit of the season -- a fifth-inning single to right field -- that gave Rays pitchers eight hits to establish the record and surpass the record of seven set by the 1997 Rangers. But Shields could not enjoy his safety.

"I don't care about my hitting," Shields said. "I don't want to talk about it."

Shields didn't look like his normal self Wednesday.

"I just wasn't making my pitches," Shields said. "My fastball wasn't there. My velocity wasn't there. My cutter wasn't as sharp as it normally is. And I didn't use my curveball today."

Shields surrendered leadoff hits in the first and second innings, but escaped without any runs scoring.

Arizona pitcher Micah Owings then singled to lead off the third, and Eric Byrnes followed with his second hit of the game to put runners at second and third with no outs. Once again, Shields fought to dodge trouble by retiring Stephen Drew on a groundout and striking out Orlando Hudson to bring up Chad Tracy. That's when Shields' luck ran out.

Tracy lined a 1-1 pitch into the right-field stands to put the Diamondbacks up 3-0.

An inning later, the Diamondbacks' first hitter, Carlos Quentin, got a base hit, which led to a three-run homer by Byrnes for a 6-0 Arizona lead.

"The first [home run] I was trying to go cutter in to Tracy and left it right over the plate," Shields said. "Second one, I was throwing a lot of changeups and figured I'd go with a high heater, and I left it over the plate."

The Rays tried to mount a comeback when they loaded the bases in the fifth, but they could manage just one run on a Greg Norton RBI single. Carlos Pena added his 17th home run of the season in the sixth and Raul Casanova tripled with two outs, which prompted Rays manager Joe Maddon to pinch-hit for Shields. Pinch-hitter Carl Crawford validated the move with an infield single. Akinori Iwamura followed with an RBI double to cut the Diamondbacks' lead to 6-4.

"We have to get back into the game before we can win the game," said Maddon, explaining why he chose to lift Shields for a pinch-hitter. "If they had a different kind of bullpen, I might have thought differently at the moment. But the way their bullpen is, and I saw it [on Tuesday] night, I felt we had to try and jump it as quickly as we could. It played out right, they're just pretty tough."

Once again the Diamondbacks' bullpen proved tough. The trio of Brandon Lyon, Tony Pena and Jose Valverde allowed one baserunner in the last 3 1/3 innings to slam the door on any hopes for a Rays comeback.

Maddon noted he felt confident the ace of his staff is ready to resume American League rules, where the DH hits and pitchers don't have to be lifted in the name of offense.

Shields is "getting a little bit shortchanged," Maddon said. "I'm sure he's ready to get back [to American League ball]. He really enjoys hitting. I think he'd prefer the American League game right now just for those built-in ejections that occur."

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