Star can't do it alone

James Shields is brilliant as usual, but the bats go cold, the pen collapses and the Rays are swept.

Published May 21, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - Rays manager Joe Maddon said that one thing keeping his club from creating momentum in this roller-coaster-type season was consistency from its starting pitchers.

On Sunday, Maddon got his wish, a seven-inning gem from his steadiest starter, James Shields.

But the Rays bullpen couldn't hold a 3-1 lead in the eighth, which started with a three-run Marlins rally and ended with Tampa Bay players jogging off the field to a chorus of boos from the 23,554 fans at Tropicana Field.

The Rays' sweep-clinching 4-3 loss to Florida was their ninth in their past 12 games, including five of six at the Trop. It was the first time this season Tampa Bay lost a game when taking a lead into the eighth 11-1. But that didn't serve as any solace to the Rays, who have now followed a season-high four-game winning streak with three consecutive losses.

Shields "pitched great again," Maddon said. "He deserved to win. It's frustrating for him, I know it's frustrating to us."

Reliever Shawn Camp (0-1) entered in the eighth after Brian Stokes allowed the only two batters he faced to reach base (one on a hit, the other a hit batsman). Camp gave up an RBI single to Miguel Cabrera before getting Josh Willingham to ground into what Maddon said could have been an inning-ending triple play.

Willingham's chopper went right to third baseman Josh Wilson, who stepped on the bag before delivering a low throw to Ty Wigginton at second. Wigginton bobbled the throw in the dirt, allowing runners to stay at first and second with one out.

"It was there," Maddon said of the triple play. "It was hit perfectly toward (third), we just didn't make a great throw to second. But it was there."

The next batter, Jeremy Hermida, belted a tying RBI double. One walk later, Miguel Olivo hit a bases-loaded ground ball to short, which scored the eventual winning run.

Said Camp: "We blew the game late as a pitching staff."

But Maddon didn't completely fault the bullpen, saying "Camper did his job" in getting ground balls. Maddon pointed out that the Rays (18-25) could have added more runs after Greg Norton's run-scoring single in the third, which put Tampa Bay up 3-0 but was also their last hit of the game.

Carlos Pena delivered the Rays' biggest hit, a two-run homer in the first. It was Pena's team-high ninth of the season, which extended his season-high hitting streak to seven games.

But it wasn't enough to reward Shields, who has no decisions in his past three games despite giving up just four runs and 14 hits in 24 innings. On Sunday, Shields allowed a run and five hits with eight strikeouts in seven innings.

"You can't control some of the things that happen in a ballgame," Shields said.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com or at (727) 893-8129.