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Rays 5, Yankees 2

Shields, Rays able to take care of business

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / September 27, 2011

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Joe Maddon sat in his office, his chair pulled up to his big wooden desk, and listened. The Rays manager didn’t watch the end of the Red Sox-Orioles game, didn’t need to see what happened for himself. Instead, he listened to his team yelling and screaming and celebrating, picking out David Price’s voice above the rest.

“Oh, I was checking scores,’’ Maddon said, when a reporter suggested he wasn’t paying attention to what was occurring in Baltimore. “I didn’t even want to look at the TV. I just sat here, waiting to hear David’s voice. David’s the first one to scream.’’

He added, “You could really hear the different voices scream. The joy about what’s going on, it’s fantastic.’’

And with those expressions of excitement, with those celebrations, the truth became clear. Not only had the Rays beaten the Yankees, 5-2, the Red Sox had lost to the Orioles. The teams are tied in the wild-card race with two games to play in the regular season. That means the Rays’ fate is, finally, in their hands.

“We don’t worry about the Red Sox,’’ Maddon said. “We don’t worry about anybody. We have to come out and play our game every night. We’ve got to worry about the Yankees tomorrow, beating the Yankees. And if we take care of our own business, if we take care of the seconds, the minutes, the hours, and the days take care of themselves.’’

That didn’t make it any less thrilling for the Rays to see the Sox lose.

“We don’t have to worry about the Red Sox losing now,’’ said James Shields, who started and improved to 16-12 with 8 2/3 innings of two-run, six-hit ball. “There’s not a lot of people that had faith in us, but here we are. This is where we want to be, down to the last two games of the year. We decide our own fate.’’

They got the win they needed and the loss they needed, even though they also got the blue seats that Maddon was hoping would be filled with people, the attendance announced at 18,772. But while the crowd might not have fulfilled his expectations, his team certainly did, before the game and during it.

“We’re very confident,’’ said tonight’s starter, Jeremy Hellickson. “We’re playing well right now. We know we probably have to win all three, and we believe we can do that.’’

The Rays came out swinging against a collection of relievers that had confounded them five days before. It was then, after Phil Hughes was scratched from his start Wednesday, that spot starter Hector Noesi and the no-names in the New York bullpen took down the Rays.

Not so last night as Tampa Bay, after going down two runs to the Yankees, used a two-run double by B.J. Upton to tie the score in the third, then went ahead on an RBI single by Johnny Damon. They added another run in the fourth inning on a homer to left field by Kelly Shoppach, the decision to start Shoppach for his defense paying off in another way.

And they got what they needed from Shields, who narrowly missed out on a win last week against the Yankees in New York. He wasn’t quite as crisp as he has been in other outings, but he was more than enough, helped out by a fifth-inning catch by Desmond Jennings.

The left fielder went a long way and then dived for the ball, and many in the clubhouse said it was one of the best catches they ever had seen.

After the game, the Rays gathered in their clubhouse to celebrate the continued demise of the Red Sox.

“We were going nuts,’’ Shields said. “It’s exciting right now, everything about it is exciting, the way we came back nine games down in September. Here we are, we’re all tied, we’re all squared up.’’

The Rays have Hellickson and Price set to go in the next two games, while the Yankees’ starters - Bartolo Colon, who hasn’t won since July, and TBA - don’t quite have the same cachet.

That could leave the Rays taking the wild card in a stunning development. Or at least in a one-game playoff at the Trop Thursday. And maybe that would fill the rest of those blue seats.

“The stars are aligned for us,’’ Shields said. “This is what baseball’s all about.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.

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