ST. PETERSBURG -- A microcosm of the Rays' 2012 season played out Tuesday night at Tropicana Field.
James Shields struck out everybody in sight -- five Orioles struck out twice and Nate McLouth struck out three times. All told, Shields struck out 15 to set a new franchise record for strikeouts in a single game. In addition, Shields pitched his third complete game of the season, facing just 29 batters and walking none while using just 106 pitches. And one more thing: He lost.
Shields struck out Chris Davis twice, but the one time he didn't get him, Davis homered to center field to put the Orioles ahead.
And that one-run deficit, like so many frustrating nights for the Rays this season, proved insurmountable in a 1-0 loss.
In the live ball era (since 1918), no other pitcher has ever taken a loss while striking out 15-plus hitters and allowing no walks and two or fewer hits.
"It's tough to watch that," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Since the All-Star break, the Rays have been on the losing side of five 1-0 contests.
"Again, that was the most brilliant pitching performance we've seen all year from any of our pitchers," Maddon said. "And then unable to get that run really typifies what's been going on."
Hunting his 16th win of the season, Shields was perfect through 3 2/3 innings before Chris Davis unloaded a solo home run to center field.
Davis hit a 1-1 changeup, and he hit the ball a long way, landing the ball 440 feet away on top of the restaurant roof.
"I just hung it," Shields said. "Whether he was guessing or not, I just hung it. I think that was probably the farthest home run I've ever given up in my career. I sent the batboy over and told him to tell him, 'Can you hit it any farther?'"
Shields chuckled when asked if he got a reply from Davis.
"Yeah, he said something like, 'I'm sorry, I'll try and hit it 480 feet next time,'" Shields said. "I thought that was pretty funny."
Davis has now homered in six consecutive games, which prompted a reporter to ask if the ball resembles a beach ball to him at this juncture.
"I don't know if it ever looks like a beach ball, but there are times when you get locked in and you just feel comfortable at the plate -- like any pitch he throws up in the strike zone, you can hit," Davis said. "I felt like that for one at-bat tonight. The other two at-bats, he was dominant tonight."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter called Shields' performance the best against his club all season.
"To have only that many pitches and strike out that many guys, I can only think of one mistake he made all night, and fortunately Chris was on it," Showalter said.
Rays hitters did their share of striking out as well. Miguel Gonzalez started for the Orioles and held the Rays scoreless on two hits while striking out seven in 6 1/3 innings. Brian Matusz, Darren O'Day, and Jim Johnson covered the final 2 2/3 innings, striking out two more Rays to bring their total to nine while preserving the win. Johnson pitched the ninth to earn his 51st save of the season.
"That's easily one of the most dominant performances I've ever had to hit against or be a part of in any way, shape or form," Rays catcher Chris Gimenez said. "I feel so bad for [Shields] that ... we can't as a team pick him up -- that's kinda tough to swallow."
Shields took the high road when discussing the Rays' offense.
"You know what? These guys did a great job of coming back," Shields said. "Obviously, we didn't hit the entire season, but I'm just proud of the way these guys fought all season long, even when we were down in the dirt and kind of scuffling. We still had that great approach every day of trying to win the ballgame. And that really showed there in these last couple of weeks, so I'm really proud of these guys."
Given the always curious nature of how the Rays plan to construct their team in 2013, the possibility exists that Rays fans might have seen Shields make his last appearance in a Rays uniform since he will make $9 million next season if Tampa Bay exercises his option.
When asked about the possibility of having pitched his last game as a Ray, Shields replied: "I hope not."
If indeed Shields did pitch his final game as a Ray, he certainly went out in a blaze of glory.
"This whole month I've been feeling really good," Shields said. "I knew this was my last game [of the season] and I wanted to let it all hang out. I wanted to end on a good note, end on a bang. Unfortunately, we didn't get the win, but I pitched great."
Maddon likes to say that wasting a solid pitching performance is "a mortal sin." But "mortal sin" wasn't strong enough to describe what happened Tuesday night when Shields came away without a win.
"It's almost like original sin -- goes well beyond mortal [sin]," Maddon said. "You need a pure baptism to get rid of that. Dunking in the Jordan River right there is the only thing that can possibly cleanse that."
Greg Zeck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.