Zobrist drives in 2 before demotion, Rays beat A’s

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP)—Ben Zobrist had a feeling he was playing in his last game before being sent to the minors. With that being the case, the Tampa Bay shortstop departed in grand fashion.

Zobrist homered and drove in two runs to support a strong outing by James Shields, and the AL East-leading Rays beat the Oakland Athletics 4-3 on Wednesday.

After the game, Zobrist was optioned to Triple-A Durham to make room on the roster for starting shortstop Jason Bartlett, who is expected to be activated Thursday after missing 16 games with a strained right knee.

“I understand,” Zobrist said. “I know the way that is. I’m glad I got the chance to help the team out again today, and glad I could leave on kind of a good note going back down. Hopefully, I’ll be back up here soon.”

Zobrist, the No. 9 hitter, has hit all five of his homers this season in his last 16 games.

“He’ll be back,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s really swung the bat well for us. It’s great for him. It’s great for us.”

Shields gave up three runs, six hits and struck out seven over 8 1-3 innings in improving to 5-1 in his last six starts. Shields’ bid for his fourth complete game of the season ended when Jack Cust doubled with one out in the ninth.

“It was important to get deep into the game,” Shields said. “A 12:40 game, it’s kind of hard to get up for those games. I knew our team was going to eventually score some runs.”

Troy Percival replaced Shields and got the final two outs for his 20th save in 22 chances. It’s the 10th time in his career the right-hander has recorded at least 20 saves.

Tampa Bay is 40-16 at home this year. The Rays are one victory away from the franchise record of 41 home wins in a single season, set in 2004 and matched in 2006.

The Athletics have lost seven of eight, including a 1-5 trip following the All-Star break.

“If there’s anything positive, the pitching was consistent throughout the trip,” Oakland outfielder Emil Brown said. “We haven’t gotten those guys runs, but they’ve kept us in ballgames.”

Jonny Gomes hit a two-run shot and Zobrist homered on the next pitch off Greg Smith in the fifth, giving the Rays a 3-2 lead. Gomes is just 6-for-42 over his last 24 games, but four of the hits have been homers.

“That was kind of a let down for me,” Smith said. “I throw a couple scoreless innings and it gets way from me in the fifth. It’s always disappointing to give up that lead.”

Zobrist added an RBI single in the seventh that extended the Tampa Bay lead to 4-2.

Smith (5-9) allowed four runs and five hits in six-plus innings, dropping to 1-4 over his last six starts.

Brown and Carlos Gonzalez hit consecutive solo homers in the second to put Oakland ahead 2-0. Brown added a sacrifice fly in the ninth off Percival.

“We won one. We were in the position to win two or three,” Oakland manager Bob Geren said. “We ran into some good pitching, that’s for sure.”


Tampa Bay outfielder Rocco Baldelli, sidelined since May 2007 because of lingering hamstring problems and what doctors have told him and the Rays is a mitochondrial disorder that causes extreme fatigue, started in right field Wednesday night for Double-A Montgomery. It’s the first time Baldelli, who had been limited to DH and pinch hitting duties, has played in the field. …Smith retired his first nine hitters before Akinori Iwamura singled to start the fourth. He then caught Iwamura leaning the wrong way at first for his 11th pickoff of the season. … Shields is 7-1 at home this season. … Oakland 2B Mark Ellis (sore right shoulder) missed his second straight game. He expects to play Friday. … Brown is 2-for-11, with both hits homers, off Shields. … Tampa Bay has won 13 of its past 14 series at home. … Percival has 344 saves, three behind Randy Myers for eighth place all-time.

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