ST. PETERSBURG B.J. Upton made the Minnesota Twins pay severely for their decision to challenge him in the midst of a pitcher's duel Saturday night, sending James Shields and a big Tropicana Field crowd home happy with a 4-1 victory.
Shields improved to 3-0 by allowing only five hits and striking out seven before yielding to Fernando Rodney with runners on second and third and none out in the ninth.
Ryan Doumit's sacrifice fly spoiled Tampa Bay's shutout bid, but Rodney struck out the next two batters to earn his fifth save for the Rays, who have won Shields' last nine home starts dating back to last July.
Shields threw 119 pitches in front of an announced crowd of 31,774 and appeared headed for his seventh career shutout before Josh Willingham led off the ninth by extending his hitting streak to 15 games with a single and Justin Morneau followed with a double.
"All of his pitches were working tonight, in particular his fastball,'' said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "Shields just had really good command.''
Both Shields and Carl Pavano were sharp from the start and the veteran right-handers were locked into a scoreless tie heading into the decisive home half of the sixth inning.
After striking out Ben Zobrist, Pavano walked Carlos Pena and yielded a single to Evan Longoria. Both runners advanced on Luke Scott's fly to deep center and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire elected to walk Matt Joyce intentionally to face Upton, who was 8-for-18 against Pavano heading into their confrontation.
With center fielder Denard Span playing deep, Upton turned on a 2-2 delivery and landed a soft liner in front of Span for a two-run single. The Rays went ahead 3-0 on the play as Span's one-hop throw to third base skipped past Danny Valencia, allowing Joyce to score.
"B.J. really battled in that at-bat,'' Maddon said. "He fouled off a couple of balls before he found one he could plop into center. We're still not as sharp as we can be, but we're going to get there.''
The Rays, now 4-1 at home, added a seventh-inning run off Twins relievers on a bases-loaded infield hit by Longoria after Minnesota's third error of the night.
Pavano, who hasn't won at Tropicana Field since he was with the Marlins in 2004, struck out six Rays through the first four innings with an assortment of fastballs and off-speed pitches that kept Tampa Bay batters off balance.
The Rays wasted two-out singles by Pena and Upton in the opening two innings. Upton grounded into a double play to end a fourth-inning threat after Luke Scott doubled with one out and Joyce grounded a single into right field.
Tampa Bay squandered another scoring chance in the fifth after Jose Molina led off with a double and moved to third on a sacrifice by Sean Rodriguez.
With Minnesota playing its infield in, first baseman Joe Mauer made a diving grab of a suicide squeeze bunt by Desmond Jennings and the hard-charging Molina was easily doubled off third.
Although the Twins were handcuffed by Shields, they had some opportunities to grab a lead.
A second-inning passed ball moved Willingham to third with one out before Shields retired Doumit on a groundout and fanned Valencia.
In the sixth, Shields needed 29 pitches to keep his shutout going after the Twins loaded the bases. Mauer, who thrives at the Trop, singled with two out and Willingham was hit by a pitch before Justin Morneau drew a walk.
Doumit made solid contact, but his liner was snagged by a leaping Longoria at third base to end the threat and the Rays would soon break the game open.