Back-to-back jacks seal win for Shields

Shields holds on late for victory

ST. PETERSBURG -- Confidence is growing in the Rays' clubhouse.

Claiming four consecutive series will do that, especially for a young club such as the Rays.

Sunday the Rays hit three solo home runs, James Shields gave the team yet another quality start, and the bullpen retired all six batters it faced as the Rays took a 3-2 win over the Blue Jays in front of a crowd of 20,556 at Tropicana Field.

"We've been saying this from Day 1," said Shields, who picked up his 12th win of the season after holding the Jays to two runs over seven innings. "As soon as we start clicking, it's game on. You can ask any team around the league, they think we have a pretty good lineup as far as hitting goes, our defense is great and our pitching is coming around. Our bullpen has been outstanding the last two months and I think that has really been helping us win some ballgames."

Game on, but to what level?

"I think we're going to be able to compete," Shields said. "We know it and teams are starting to figure it out."

Carlos Pena's 38th home run of the season broke a 2-2 tie in the sixth to give the Rays a 3-2 lead that held.

"It was a great game today," Pena said. "Shields pitched an outstanding game. Our bullpen did a great job. It's so good to win the close ones. ... We think we are a team that's going to compete in this division to where we can fight for a playoff spot."

Brendan Harris put the Rays up 1-0 with a solo home run in the second off Jays starter Jesse Litsch. For Harris, the home run gave him 10 for the season, which means the Rays basically have gotten 71 home runs this season from three guys who weren't even locks to make the team in Pena, Harris, and B.J. Upton.

"I never thought of it in those terms," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's kind of nice."

Aaron Hill scored on Vernon Wells' third-inning groundout to tie the score at 1. Hill later hit his 15th homer of the season in the fifth to put the Jays up 2-1.

Shields never wavered, holding the Jays in check for two more innings to keep the Rays in the game.

"That's the kind of game you come to expect of him," Maddon said. "When it gets tough, so does he."

Carl Crawford's 11th home run of the season -- a solo shot in the sixth -- tied the game at 2 before Pena followed with another to give the Rays the lead. The back-to-back homers were the eighth time the Rays have accomplished the feat this season.

Shields cleared one final hurdle when Frank Thomas led off the seventh by drilling a line drive to deep center field that would have cleared the fence had the ball been high enough. Instead, Thomas had to settle for a double. Shields then retired in order Matt Stairs, Troy Glaus, and Hill to maintain the lead.

Dan Wheeler and Al Reyes successfully pitched the eighth and ninth to preserve the victory.

"We've been playing well for awhile," Maddon said. "One of the biggest things this last month is to see how good we can be. ... Today we played a complete game -- solid from start to finish."

Ironically, Pena homered on a day in which the first 7,500 kids 14 and under to enter the ballpark received a Carlos Pena T-shirt. Make that 7,501, as a certain big kid in the clubhouse also fashioned a Pena shirt. Jonny Gomes had to rip a little here and a little there to squeeze into the shirt, and he looked a little like the Incredible Hulk, but it was funny. The kind of thing a team with chemistry does. Chemistry derived from a team coming together.

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