Rays top A's 4-1 in series opener

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays earned an impressive road victory over the Oakland Athletics on Friday night in the opening game of a three game series.

In his latest exceptional performance, James Shields thoroughly outpitched an old Tampa Bay farmhand.

Just when Chad Gaudin's success might have had the Devil Rays wondering why they'd gotten rid of him, Shields struck out nine to help his team snap an 11-game losing streak on the West Coast with a 4-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Friday night.

"I think I'm slowly starting to learn from each start with my composure," Shields said. "It's important to get late in the game and give your team a chance to win."

Gaudin endured his worst outing of 2007, against his former club.

Shields (2-0) pushed his season strikeout total to 37 in five starts, and Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton each hit an RBI double in Tampa Bay's ninth win in 35 games at the Coliseum - still the team's worst record in any opposing stadium.

When Shields retired Shannon Stewart in the second, it began a stretch of 12 straight outs for the right-hander before Mike Piazza's two-out single in the sixth.

Shields, who struck out 12 on April 22 against Cleveland, allowed four hits and one run and didn't walk a batter in eight innings. He retired 19 of his final 20 batters. After Shields' 107-pitch effort, Al Reyes finished for his eighth save in eight chances.

"It was very big for him to pitch as well as he did and to give us that many innings," Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I really believe this young man can become a big-game pitcher."

Bobby Crosby hit a home run leading off the second for the A's, who are struggling to score enough runs for their effective starting pitchers. Oakland, the defending AL West champion which reached the ALCS last October, lost its third straight.

"It's frustrating," Crosby said. "We know we'll get good pitching, and if we can scrap together a few runs we have a chance to win. Scoring one run isn't going to do it. We need to pick it up. If we relax, we'll be fine."

Gaudin (1-1) lasted only four innings in his shortest start of the year. The right-hander, selected in the 34th round of the 2001 draft by Tampa Bay, walked four, allowed four stolen bases and threw 93 pitches - 48 for strikes - while allowing four hits, four runs and striking out four.

"He never really got into his rhythm tonight," A's manager Bob Geren said.

Crawford's RBI double in the first ended a streak by the Oakland pitching staff of not allowing a first-inning run in the club's initial 22 games.

The A's had their chance in the bottom of the first. They put runners at second and third with one out, but Shields struck out Piazza and got Dan Johnson on an inning-ending groundout.

"That strikeout of Piazza was huge," Maddon said. "That was a great sequence there."

Upton doubled to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead in the second.

Maddon is pleased with his team's competitive, patient at-bats and the fact that Tampa Bay was able to jump out to the early lead a day after a demoralizing 11-3 loss to the Angels in Anaheim. Tampa Bay scored only its fourth first-inning run all year.

"We can grow into a nice offensive force like the Yankees or Boston," the skipper said.

Gaudin walked two batters in the second and two more in the third, with Crawford and Delmon Young pulling off a double steal. Crawford then scored on Carlos Pena's RBI groundout, which moved Young to third. He scored moments later on a passed ball.

"They came out and made me throw strikes and I didn't do it," Gaudin said. "I fell behind a few times and couldn't make the pitches."

Notes: Shields' 37 Ks in April moved him past Scott Kazmir for the most in Tampa Bay history for the month. ... Tampa Bay won for just the fifth time in its last 24 games in California. ... Devil Rays CF Rocco Baldelli, who bruised his right leg while making a diving attempt at Orlando Cabrera's two-run double Thursday in Anaheim, sat out and could return to the lineup as the DH in Sunday's series finale. ... Oakland acquired OF Chris Denorfia from Cincinnati for two players to be named and cash. Denorfia had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow April 3 after tearing a ligament during an exhibition game March 23 and isn't expected to play until 2008. ... It was 75 degrees at first pitch. ... The game drew 15,388 on a night the NBA's Golden State Warriors played right next door in their first home playoff game since 1994.

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