SEATTLE -- Avoiding the big inning has been a big part of James Shields' season-long success story, which has had much to do with Tampa Bay's fortunes. That's what made the second inning so surprising on Thursday night.
Shields allowed four earned runs in the second, which paved the way for the Mariners to take an 8-2 win at Safeco Field with 16,376 watching.
In defeat, the Rays lost for the ninth time in their last 13 games, and they took their 12th loss in their last 18 games. Tampa Bay now finds itself in third place in the American League East, three games behind division-leading New York.
Thursday night's game had been billed as a pitching duel between Shields and Seattle's Felix Hernandez, who entered the game tied for the AL lead in strikeouts with 81 each. The game also marked the third meeting between the right-handers, following two memorable encounters in which the pair allowed a combined three runs in 30 innings pitched.
Trouble began for Shields in the second, when Jack Cust led off the inning with a home run to right-center field. Shields remained composed and appeared to retire the next batter, Franklin Gutierrez, on a groundout to shortstop Reid Brignac. Just one problem, Felipe Lopez dropped the throw at first.
Adam Kennedy followed with a single and one out later, Chone Figgins singled to right to drive home Gutierrez. Carlos Peguero finished off the scoring with a three-run homer to center field.
"I didn't do a good job of damage control in the second inning," Shields said. "These guys came out hacking. I made some mistakes and they took advantage of [them]."
The four earned runs allowed by Shields in the second were the most he had allowed in an inning all season.
"It was a good feeling, especially against a good pitcher like that," Cust said. "He got rattled a little bit and couldn't find his command. He's a guy who usually throws strikes and doesn't walk guys, and is pretty tough to hit."
Shields continued to struggle in the innings that followed.
Kennedy had an RBI double in the third. Peguero then hit his second home run of the game in the fourth, and Justin Smoak added a solo shot to push the Mariners' lead to 8-0.
"I don't think it was that good," Shields said. "My ball was up today. I made some mistakes. I didn't get the job done today. I didn't pitch well at all. And to me, that's unacceptable. ... I've got to get better and move on."
Catcher Kelly Shoppach has been behind the plate for the best of Shields this season -- which means he's caught three complete games -- so who better to put the outing in perspective.
"We can't expect this guy to throw nine innings every time, as good as he's been doing," Shoppach said. "Did we think that he would go the whole season without giving up a five spot? Sure, we'd love to say that. But this is a hard game to play. Give them some credit. They hit some pitches and put some balls into play."
Shields did not start the fifth inning, marking his shortest outing of the season and his shortest stint in a start since last June 11 -- when he surrendered 10 earned runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Marlins. After allowing seven earned runs on Thursday night, Shields saw his ERA move from 2.15 to 2.77.
Meanwhile, "The King" put on display the kind of stuff that earned him the 2010 AL Cy Young Award -- striking out 11 before leaving after seven innings, with Seattle comfortably ahead 8-1.
"Typical. I thought he had good depth on whatever that is -- it's a sink and it's like 90-91 [mph] -- and [he threw it] off his fastball and slider," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Typically aggressive, typically great stuff. When you permit him to go on cruise control, that's even worse for you and better for him."
How good was "The King" on Thursday night? Shoppach smiled when asked that question, before answering with a healthy dose of sarcasm: "We knocked him out after seven and 11 punchouts."
Tampa Bay's struggling offense got shut out on Wednesday against the Rangers and they did not score in the first five innings on Thursday night, making for a stretch of 14 consecutive scoreless innings. Lopez's RBI single in the sixth finally ended the streak of futility and put the Rays on the scoreboard.
Matt Joyce added a solo home run in the eighth against left-hander Aaron Laffey. For the hot-hitting Joyce, the home run gave him three in his last 13 at-bats against left-handers -- after having gone 67 career at-bats without a home run against a southpaw.
But Joyce's blast did little to help a Rays cause that faltered in the early going of Thursday night's game.
"I did not see that one coming," Maddon said. "That one, I did not see coming. [Shields] gave up a couple of points. He's been so money. The Mariners are a nice ballclub, but they're not known for that kind of outburst. Based on what [Shields had been] doing, that kind of surprised me."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.