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Shields leads Rays to win over Orioles

Shields leads Rays to win over O's

ST. PETERSBURG -- When looking back at an up-and-down season on Tuesday, James Shields pointed to a lack of complete games as one of the most disappointing developments.

But if not for a rough eighth inning on Wednesday, he could've finally notched one during his final start of the season.

For seven innings against the hapless Orioles, Shields was in vintage form, and despite an eighth inning that put a damper on any thoughts of going the distance, he and the Rays held on for a 5-3 win in front of 10,554 at Tropicana Field.

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After the seventh inning, Shields had 85 pitches and no runs to his name. But considering his last nine-inning outing came on May 9, 2008, finishing what he started was the last thing on his mind.

"I didn't have any complete games this year, so I'm really just going out there throwing," Shields said. "[I was] just trying to keep my team in the game, get this last win and end on a good note."

The Rays are certainly on their way to doing that.

With its fourth consecutive victory, Tampa Bay notched its 82nd win, guaranteeing its second winning season -- with the other being in 2008. With one more win, the Rays would become the eighth club to win 180 games over two seasons after losing 180 games over the previous two.

There was no champagne flowing in the Rays' clubhouse after locking up a winning season -- last year's team set the bar a lot higher than a winning record -- but manager Joe Maddon did have some shaving cream in his right ear, courtesy of Dioner Navarro.

"That's all good," said Maddon, whose team has won nine of its past 12 games. "It's good to do that, it's good to sustain that as we move forward. I'm really pleased with the way our guys have gone about their business over these last two weeks. It's been kind of difficult -- everybody's been kind of disappointed -- but nevertheless, we're still playing and playing to win, playing in a prideful manner. And I'm really enjoying watching us play right now."

Shields, who struck out five of six batters at one point, had a one-hitter through five and a gem on his hands by the time he marched out for the eighth inning. But in that frame, the O's got a sacrifice fly by Chad Moeller and a two-run homer by Ty Wigginton to cut their deficit to two.

Still, the 27-year-old finished off that inning and got the win, giving up three runs on six hits, walking none and striking out a season-high-tying eight while throwing 106 pitches -- 72 for strikes.

After finishing above .500 with an ERA no greater than 3.85 each of his previous two years, Shields' '09 season ended a subpar 11-12 with a 4.14 ERA.

But at least it finished on a good note.

"It was a good night," said Shields, who tied his career high in starts (33) and set a new mark in innings (219 2/3). "It was a good way to finish my season off. I felt really good out there, and that's always a positive."

"Shields had his breaking stuff going," added Orioles manager Dave Trembley, whose team lost its 13th successive game. That mark is the most in the Majors since 2006 and the third-longest streak in club history.

The Rays got on the board against Orioles starter David Hernandez in the second, when Willy Aybar -- who has now hit safely in 13 of his past 14 games -- smacked an RBI single. Then, in the third, Ben Zobrist turned on a high fastball and launched it out to right field for a three-run homer -- his 26th on the year -- to give him 11 RBIs in his past six games.

The rookie Hernandez has now lost his past six decisions.

"My first at-bat, I felt terrible, and I just went up there trying to put a good swing on it and see what happened," Zobrist said. "I was fortunate to get that ball up and get my barrel to it, even though he's throwing hard. When I hit it, I said, 'Man, if that can just stay fair, that'd be good for us,' and, sure enough, we were up 4-nothing."

In the fifth, Carl Crawford added a solo shot, his 15th, to give the Rays a 5-0 lead. Then, in a two-run game in the ninth, Russ Springer got the final two outs to notch his first save since April 21, 2001, when he was a member of the Diamondbacks' bullpen.

"I've been lucky," the 40-year-old Springer said. "I've played with some good closers."

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

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