Upton backs Shields' complete gem with three HRs

Upton backs Shields' complete gem with three HRs

Upton backs Shields' complete gem with three HRs
ST. PETERSBURG -- You can bet the Rays will take it.

Backed by James Shields' pitching and B.J. Upton's hitting, Tampa Bay took a 6-0 win over Texas on Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field to complete a successful homestand that saw series wins over the Yankees and the Rangers.

"Shields was outstanding," manager Joe Maddon said. "That was as good as he's thrown all year. Of course, B.J.'s performance ... Between those two guys, it was fun to watch today."

Sunday's win could easily be classified one of the best of the season, as it featured quality pitching, plenty of offense and top-notch defense against the defending American League champions.

The win moved the Rays to 77-63 on the season, leaving them very much in the thick of the AL East and AL Wild Card races as they head to Baltimore on Monday to begin a three-game series against the Orioles.

As for the division, with their 13-3 win over the Orioles on Sunday, the Yankees ended the weekend in first place, a game ahead of the Orioles and two in front of the Rays. The Orioles' loss allowed the Rays to move within a game of the second Wild Card spot.

Shields went the distance on Sunday, pitching his second complete game of the season en route to his 14th win, dominating the top run-scoring team in the Majors.

"Right about after the seventh, I was pretty locked in on finishing," Shields said. "I wanted to get early outs there in the eighth inning. I wanted to finish the game today. These guys did a great job of taking the lead, and first and foremost, you have to give it to the defense today."

The veteran right-hander held the Rangers to two hits while walking none and striking out eight in a 101-pitch outing.

"Obviously, September baseball is huge, and getting any kind of win is big," he said. "But against that lineup, as far as I'm concerned, that's the best hitting lineup in the big leagues, one through nine. Not to mention they have a lot of guys on the bench who can swing it, too. That's a good hitting team over there. They can do some damage any time. So that was good."

Rangers manager Ron Washington talked up Shields' performance after the game.

"If you look at the game today, you have to give credit to James Shields," Washington said. "When a guy is pitching like that, it makes you look like you're lethargic. He had a tremendous changeup. He certainly didn't waste a whole lot of pitches. We just couldn't find the fat of the bat. You just have to tip your hat."

Meanwhile, Upton led the offense with three home runs, making him the third player in Rays history to hit three in a game, joining Jonny Gomes (July 30, 2005, vs. Kansas City) and Evan Longoria (Aug. 18, 2008, vs. Minnesota).

Upton led off with an opposite-field homer on Roy Oswalt's first pitch of the game. Matt Joyce added an RBI double, and the Rays had a two-run lead after one inning.

Oswalt didn't fare any better in the second, when Jose Molina hit a two-run homer to push the lead to four runs.

Martin Perez took over for Oswalt, and the results were pretty much the same.

Upton cracked his second homer leading off the fourth, rerouting a 3-0 fastball from Perez into the left-field stands for a five-run lead.

Upton's third homer came in the sixth, also off Perez, giving him 21 for the season and the Rays a six-run lead.

"I can't really put it into words," said Upton of his performance. "You dream of doing stuff like that. Things like this don't happen very often, so to come out here and do it today and help the team beat a team like Texas that pitches pretty well feels pretty good."

The Rays and Rangers split the first two games of the series, both of which went into extra innings. Throughout those games the pitching on both sides was outstanding, and the Rays came out of the set having held the Rangers to five runs. The Rangers hit .141 after going into the series leading the Major Leagues with a .278 team average.

For the homestand, Rays pitchers posted a 2.21 ERA with 66 strikeouts and a .169 opponents batting average.

"We've been pitching pretty well lately," Shields said. "We're just trying to keep that momentum going, trying to feed off of each other. It was nice to give that bullpen a little breather today after a couple of extra-inning games. This is what we're here to do -- pitch well and win ballgames."

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