Shields will be looking to win his fifth consecutive home start on Sunday, when the Rays—who are one win shy of their total from last year—seek their first sweep of the Detroit Tigers since 2002.
Tampa Bay (65-44) has won 38 of its last 47 home games, compiling a 2.66 team ERA over that span and sweeping six home series. Opponents are hitting just .210 when visiting the Rays since April 22.
Shields (9-7, 3.66 ERA) has been a big reason for all of those numbers, going 7-1 with a 2.16 ERA in 12 home starts. The Rays have won 11 of those games, with the lone loss coming after Shields gave up two runs in 7 1-3 innings of a 2-1 defeat to the New York Yankees on May 14.
The right-hander has won his only two career starts against Detroit—both last season—giving up four runs in a total of 16 innings.
Another young player was the key figure in the Rays’ latest home win, as Evan Longoria went 3-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs in Saturday’s 9-3 victory over Detroit. Fourteen of the rookie’s 21 home runs and 43 of his 67 RBIs have come at home.
“It’s exciting … and I’ll have time to enjoy (personal accolades) in the offseason, but what we’re doing right now as a team is a little more exciting,” Longoria said.
Tampa Bay continues to lead the AL East by three games over Boston. The Rays, who’ve finished last in the East in nine of their 10 seasons, can match last year’s win total with a victory Sunday, and they need just five wins to equal their club record of 70, set in 2004.
Still, their offense had been sluggish, and Saturday was just the second time they had scored more than five runs in a game since July 6. Tampa Bay had won its previous three games despite scoring a total of 11 runs.
“Finally, we put up a big number for the pitching staff and I think they needed that mentally from grinding it out,” Longoria told his team’s official Web site. “Everybody knows we haven’t been hitting with runners in scoring position with nobody out or two outs.”
That same problem has been plaguing Detroit’s hitters in St. Petersburg. The Tigers (55-55), who were last swept at Tropicana Field to begin their 106-loss season in 2002, are just 2-for-20 with men in scoring position so far in the series.
The Tigers, losers of three straight, will now look to avoid their first four-game slide since June 2-6. Having lost six of their last nine games, they’ve been unable to take advantage of a similar skid by the first-place Chicago White Sox, remaining 6 1/2 games back in the AL Central.
“We just haven’t done the job. You’ve got to go out and win ballgames,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “We’ve hung around (.500) and got a little over. We just haven’t been able to take the next step to get something really rolling.”
Armando Galarraga (9-4, 3.36) will hope to win his third straight start and reverse Detroit’s momentum. Galarraga has allowed eight hits and four runs in 12 1-3 innings in his last two starts, wins at Kansas City and Cleveland.
He’s never faced the Rays, but he has been outstanding on the road this season, going 7-2 with a 2.60 ERA in 11 starts.
After Sunday’s game, the Rays and Tigers won’t meet again until they close the season with four games in Detroit from Sept. 25-28.