Homers help Shields outduel Santana

Homers help Shields outduel Santana

NEW YORK -- James Shields won the duel under cloudy skies Saturday afternoon.

The right-hander took the mound for his 100th career start, only to be opposed by perhaps the best left-hander in baseball, Johan Santana, and Shields came away with his sixth win of the season in the Rays' rain-delayed 3-1 win over the Mets in front of 37,992 at Citi Field.

Shields allowed one run on three hits and no walks in seven innings, but he didn't get to finish due to a 73-minute rain delay that began in the top of eighth. Still, during Shields' seven-inning stint, he more than matched up against Santana, who allowed two runs in 7 1/3 innings.

"It was a battle today," Shields said. "Whenever you're facing Johan Santana, he's one of the premier pitchers, if not the premier pitcher, in the league. And I was just fortunate enough to outdo him today.

"Most of my pitches were pretty good. I made a couple of mistakes. When you give up three doubles, you know they're mistakes. But it's all good. Our team did a great job of scoring a couple of runs when we needed it."

Shields retired the final 14 hitters he faced after allowing a third-inning double to Alex Cora. Saturday's performance improved Shields to 3-1 with a 2.72 ERA in his past seven starts.

"I thought [Shields] was throwing the ball pretty well from the very beginning," manager Joe Maddon said. "Shieldsy normally does that. He'll give up an inning with one or two runs. I'll see that a lot from him. And when he gets on a roll, he stays on it. I was going to put him back out there had the rain not come. ... I just thought he was very sharp today and made some very good pitches."

Santana held the Rays hitless for the first four innings, allowing only Shields to reach base via a walk in the third. Tampa Bay finally pushed a run across in the fifth when Jason Bartlett and Gabe Kapler cobbled together back-to-back doubles to tie the score at 1. Carlos Pena accounted for the second run against Santana with an epic blast to deep center field leading off the seventh.

"I think that's the longest home run since Lou Brock in the Polo Grounds," Maddon quipped. "That was really well struck."

Pena's 22nd home run of the season kept him atop the American League leaderboard while giving him 98 homers with the Rays to tie him with Fred McGriff for second place on the club's all-time list.

"I knew I hit it," Pena said. "But this park is huge. Obviously, I've seen some balls hit [at Citi Field] that I thought had a chance that got caught. [But] I knew I hit it pretty good.

"It was a pitching duel. Both Johan and James did an unbelievable job. They were amazing. They were just pounding the strike zone with every single pitch they threw up there ... it seemed like they could throw it for a strike. ... What a great performance. I was glad I was able to put a good swing on that ball and put our team ahead."

Clinging to a 2-1 lead, Ben Zobrist gave the Rays some insurance with two outs in the top of the ninth with his 15th home run of the season.

"[Zobrist has] swung the bat pretty well this entire series," Maddon said. "He hit it to the graveyard the first night. That time, he finally hit it to the right spot in the ballpark. ...

"He's in a good place right now. He's very motivated. And he works hard. He wants to be an everyday player. And you're seeing that, combined with his exorbitant power all of a sudden. And it's just something he's worked on."

Zobrist's blast rode the right-field line to leave the park over the 330-foot mark.

"That was just the perfect spot to hit the ball in this park to get it out, you know," Zobrist said. "I don't have [Pena's] kind of pop out there in center field. [I was] just really trying to see the ball in that at-bat. [I] haven't been really seeing it that well lately. Just wanted to let it go. I saw it good and it was right there."

Dan Wheeler retired the Mets in order in the eighth before J.P. Howell pitched a scoreless ninth to preserve the victory and earn his fourth save of the season.

While the Rays had a lot of heroes who helped snap the team's three-game losing skid, Saturday clearly belonged to Shields.

"I always feel like we're going to win when [Shields] pitches," Maddon said. "I always have that feeling we're going to win. I know he's going to be there late, and I can almost start planning on how to use the bullpen before the game begins, because he's normally going to give you seven-plus innings. That's just him."

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