In the one inning that served as an aberration, the third, Shields gave up three hits, including a three-run homer to Jacoby Ellsbury that proved to be the difference in a 3-1 Boston win.
Ellsbury followed a pair of singles with his 21st of the year, a bomb over the Tampa Bay bullpen. Shields issued a walk to begin the fourth and then set down the last 15 men he faced, finishing with his major league-leading and franchise-record ninth complete game of the season.
"Anytime you can get three hits and win a ballgame, that's huge," Ellsbury said.
It marks the first time Boston has won a game with just three hits since a 1-0 victory over Kansas City last July. Much of the credit, aside from Ellsbury, can go to Jon Lester, who also limited the Rays to just three hits in his seven innings to help make the lead hold up.
Lester gave up two of his hits in the first, the only inning in which Tampa Bay scored. He retired 17 of the last 18 he faced.
With the two hurlers dealing in that way, it made Ellsbury's blast more than a game-changer. It really was the game.
"Pretty much a pitchers' duel," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "They hit the home run, we did not. That's why they won the game."
Shields began the third inning by giving up a single to Josh Reddick. One out later, Mike Aviles ripped a hit of his own. Obviously, the timing for Ellsbury, who hit after Aviles, was impeccable.
"Jacoby, fortunately for us, takes a really good swing and we had men on base when he did it, because that's all we had," Boston manager Terry Francona said.
Ellsbury echoed those thoughts.
"Shields held us to three hits, but fortunately when I hit the home run it was with runners on," he said.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to break it down. It was a pretty simple formula that got the Red Sox a victory in their shortest game at home all season. Unfortunately for Shields, his formula had one tiny glitch.