Shields struggles, offense can't support in loss

BY foxsports • July 15, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Unfortunately for James Shields, the hits just keep on coming.

Josh Beckett overcame early struggles to pitch six effective innings, Will Middlebrooks drove in a pair during a tiebreaking three-run fifth, and the Boston Red Sox beat Shields and the Tampa Bay Rays 7-3 on Sunday.

Boston went ahead 6-3 during the fifth when Daniel Nava homered and Middlebrooks had a two-run single off Shields (8-6), who has allowed double-digits hits in four consecutive starts.

"I'm just not making my pitches," Shields said. "That's all. I've got to do a better job of making my pitches. Of course it's frustrating. I'm not doing my job right now. The bottom line is I've got to get better."

It's the longest stretch for an AL pitcher since Oakland's Dan Haren did it four times in a row in Sept. 2007.

Shields lasted just five innings, giving up six runs and 11 hits. He is 3-6 over his past 12 games.

"He was just unable to put the ball where he wanted to," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's just not working for him right now, where last year everything worked."

Boston closer Alfredo Aceves, in a non-save situation, loaded the bases on three walks in the ninth, but retired Hideki Matsui on a high fly to right to end it.

Matsui made his first start since July 2 when he left the game due to a hamstring injury. The DH hit two homers in his first three games with the Rays, has just a .160 batting average with no homers and three RBIs in 26 games since.

Beckett (5-7) allowed three runs -- all in the first -- and eight hits. The right-hander, 5-0 over his past eight games against Tampa Bay, struck out seven and walked two in stopping a personal six-start winless streak.

"I think what happened is they tied the score ... once that happened, momentum came back to him and he started pitching in a little bit more loose manner and made better pitches," Maddon said of Beckett.

Cody Ross made it 7-3 on a sixth-inning sacrifice fly. The Red Sox took two of three from the Rays after dropping six of seven before the All-Star break.

Adrian Gonzalez put the Red Sox up 1-0 on first-inning RBI single. Mike Aviles' two-run homer tied it at 3 in the second.

Ben Zobrist had a run-scoring infield single that went off Beckett's glove, and Desmond Jennings hit a two-run single during the bottom of the first.

The Red Sox return home Monday night for a four-game series against Kevin Youkilis and the Chicago White Sox. Youkilis was traded from Boston to the White Sox last month.

Valentine questioned Youkilis' commitment to the game during a television interview early in the season and later apologized to him a day later.

"I think the comment that I made early, he made a big issue out of and I don't think he wanted to get over it," Valentine said.

NOTES: Shields has given up 146 hits this season, the major's most. ... Tampa Bay 3B Evan Longoria, out since May 1 with a partially torn left hamstring, took grounders. ... Valentine said that Boston LF Carl Crawford (left wrist) will rejoin the team on Monday. The former Rays' starter had been with Triple-A Pawtucket.

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