Rays 2 Blue Jays 0
TORONTO — It came down to one pitch in the first inning.
Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Ricky Romero wanted the 0-2 pitch to Ben Zobrist to be up and in. He missed his location — too much middle. Zobrist didn’t miss, hitting it over the left-field wall.
The two-run homer gave the Tampa Bay Rays the only runs that right-hander James Shields needed. He pitched a four-hit shutout and struck out seven as the Rays beat the Blue Jays 2-0 to take the rubber match of a three-games series Sunday.
The Blue Jays finished the home stand at 2-3 and have lost seven of their past 11 games.
“It was supposed to be for a ball and I missed the location,” said Romero (1-3) who struck out 10 in seven innings. “Zobrist hit it. It’s frustrating losing ball games that we’re in, I did everything possible to keep us in the game.”
“Other than one pitch, he was lights out,” catcher J.P. Arencibia said of Romero. “We were trying to go up and in and it stayed over the plate.”
Romero still earned praise from Rays manager Joe Maddon, who said the team was lucky to get two off the Jays starter.
“A classic example of having to get a good pitcher early,” said Maddon. “Once he found himself and he settled in, he started making much better pitches with everything.
“He found command of his fastball and then he started throwing other stuff off of that and he became really, really good. He was good, he was really good. But we got him early.”
But Shields (2-1) was just that much better in recording his first shutout and second complete game of the season. It was the third shutout and seventh complete game of his career.
“He was throwing strike one, his change-up was real good today,” said Arencibia who in his major-league debut last Aug. 7 hit two homers off Shields. “He kind of kept everybody off his fastball and threw his change-up any time and his curveball any time.”
Shields allowed two walks, both to Jose Bautista including one to lead off the bottom of the ninth. But he picked off Bautista for the second out of the inning.
Bautista, who lined out in fourth inning to end a string of reaching base in 11 consecutive plate appearances, hit three home runs over the first two games of the series.
“I finally stopped (Bautista),” Shields said. “He’s locked in right now and he was all series. Even the line drive to third base that (Felipe) Lopez caught was scorched. He’s a good hitter and to be able to keep him at bay is good.”
Romero allowed three hits in the first starting with a one-out single by Johnny Damon, who stretched his hitting streak to 13 games.
Zobrist hit his fifth homer to the season, making him 7-for-15 in his career against Romero after going 1-for-3 against him Sunday. Dan Johnson followed with a single but Romero got out of the inning with no further runs despite an error by first baseman Adam Lind.
Shields walked Bautista in the first inning and didn’t allow another base runner until Juan Rivera led off the fifth with a ground single. The hit made Rivera 8-for-19 in his career against Shields after going 1-for-4 against him Sunday.
John McDonald kept the bottom of the fifth going when he singled with two out but Mike McCoy became the third strikeout victim of the inning and sixth of the game for Shields.
Corey Patterson ended a 0-for-17 drought when he led off the sixth with a double down the right-field line. But Shields retired the next three batters, including a strikeout of Bautista.
Shields was 0-1 in two starts last year against Toronto that included a 17-11 loss at Rogers Centre on Aug. 7 when he gave up six home runs, tying a modern-day major-league record.
“Shields was very good,” Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. “But I think Ricky has been very solid and consistent to date. I’m sure that he would take, and we would take, seven innings and two runs every time he walks to the mound.”
Farrell feels his team hitters might have become a little too aggressive.
“I think right now we’ve got a few guys who are trying to do too much and they’re not trusting their abilities and letting the game come to them, especially at the plate” he said. “We’ve had some games where we’ve made some quick outs.
“I think at some point we’ve got to trust our abilities that if it’s not the pitch that you’re looking for on the first pitch, you’re going to get a pitch some time in that sequence or that at-bat.”
Notes: Attendance at Rogers Centre was 14,456 . . . Bautista lined out to third in the fourth inning on Sunday to snap a string of 11 consecutive plate appearances in which he reached base. He was tied for second in franchise with Tony Fernandez who did it in 1999. Lyle Overbay set the club record with 12 in 2008. Bautista walked in the first inning.