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Shields struggles early in loss to Twins

July 5, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — Like fellow All-Star David Price did a day earlier, right-hander James Shields struggled early Tuesday before settling in.

Also like Price, Shields received minimal run support as the Rays dropped their second straight to the Twins in a 3-2 loss at Target Field.

“You’ve got to score more than two runs to win,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “We got to get off the schneid with our offense. We’ve got to be more consistent.”

Shields opened his start giving up a single and double, with Twins leadoff hitter Ben Revere eventually scoring on a grounder to third by Michael Cuddyer. In the third, Shields allowed two more runs, as Revere led off with a single and Alexi Casilla followed with a walk.

Two batters later, Cuddyer singled to right and a fielding error by right fielder Matt Joyce allowed both runners to score on the play.

“I kind of noticed that he got jammed off the bat,” Joyce said. “It was one of those in between plays [and] I didn’t know if I was going to be able to catch it. So I came in hard and tried to make a play on it. I realized at the last second that I wasn’t going to be able to catch it, so I tried to slow up and stop it, but it kind of skipped on me and went right under my glove.”

Along with Joyce’s play, the decision by third baseman Evan Longoria to throw to first on Cuddyer’s first-inning grounder, instead of throwing home, allowed the Twins first run to score.

“Longo had an option of throwing home or throwing to first base,” Maddon said. “I think he could’ve had the runner at home.”

Entering the game tied for the American League lead with a .987 fielding percentage, the Rays have been strong defensively all season.

But in a tight game on Tuesday, a couple missed plays made a big difference.

“Those are two runs there that we could’ve gotten,” Maddon said. “But again, when you lose a 3-2 game, you’re going to dissect a lot of these little minutiae of the game. We need to be able to outhit some mistakes on occasion too.”

In his first start after being named an All-Star, Shields went six innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on six hits. He also had five strikeouts against three walks and picked off two runners.

Shields faced just one batter over the minimum in his last four innings of work.

“I was fighting myself the whole entire game,” Shields said. “I minimized my damage the best I could. Unfortunately, it wasn’t good enough tonight. It is frustrating. I think overall we’re pitching the ball pretty well, we just need that timely hitting. Sometimes, that’s just the way the game goes.”

Twins starter Scott Baker was dominant through five innings, giving up just one unearned run on three hits and one walk with three strikeouts.

After tossing only 62 pitches, Baker left due to a mild right elbow strain. Baker said he began to feel discomfort in the third, but did not leave until after the fifth.

“Probably the last couple innings I was just trying to spot up and hit my spots,” Baker said. “I don’t think it affected my pitching by any means. It was just uncomfortable. Honestly, I almost didn’t say anything and continued to pitch, but it’s just not smart.”

The Rays did not fare much better against the Twins bullpen, though, as they managed just one run on four hits over the last four innings.

Final Vote candidate Ben Zobrist was the biggest bright spot offensively for the Rays, going 3-for-4 with a double and a stolen base. Zobrist also scored a run on a Twins’ error.

The Rays made things interesting against Twins closer Matt Capps in the ninth, forcing him out of the game in favor of lefty Glen Perkins.

B.J. Upton led off the inning with a solo homer to left, and Casey Kotchman singled to bring the potential tying run to the plate with none out. Capps then got Sean Rodriguez and Sam Fuld to fly out, but walked Kelly Shoppach.

Perkins came in and got Johnny Damon to ground out to end the game. Replays showed Damon appeared to have beaten the throw to first, which would have brought Zobrist to the plate with the bases loaded.

“Did you guys see the replays?” Damon asked reporters. “I felt like it was pretty obvious. … I crossed the bag, I was like, ‘This is awesome, we’re getting our hottest hitter up here.’ Then as you could see in my reaction, I was stunned.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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