ST. PETERSBURG -- James Shields has done many remarkable things throughout this impressive bounce-back season he's having. But on Thursday night, he did something that has seemed virtually impossible over the last couple of months.
He beat CC Sabathia.
It took a herculean effort and a fight to the finish, but with 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball, Shields did it. He handed the Yankees a 2-1 defeat at Tropicana Field, and he snapped Sabathia's seven-game winning streak on the ace left-hander's 31st birthday.
Sabathia was as good as he's been for a while now.
His offense simply didn't help.
"You like to see him get a win," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said of Sabathia. "He definitely pitched good enough to win, we just couldn't get anything going off Shields. But he's been doing that all year to most teams that he's faced. And he was better than us tonight."
On July 10, Shields and Sabathia squared off at Yankee Stadium in a classic pitchers' duel, with Sabathia hurling a shutout and the Yankees' only run against Shields coming as a result of his own error.
Eleven days later, the two were back at it again.
This time, Shields and his dominating changeup denied Sabathia his 15th win and instead gave him his first loss since June 9.
The Rays' right-hander has now pitched at least seven innings and given up no more than two earned runs in 13 of his starts this season, which ties him for the Major League lead.
"That was a good battle tonight," Shields said. "It's nice to come out with a win, especially with what happened the last time we faced each other in New York. Any time you're going to face CC, you're going to go through a battle. Fortunately for us, we got just enough runs to win the ballgame."
The Yankees -- with Jeter bumped from the leadoff spot for the first time since April 14 -- didn't put a single runner in scoring position between the second and seventh innings against Shields, who retired 12 of 14 at one point.
Jeter finally got in scoring position with a one-out double in the eighth, then scored on Robinson Cano's two-out double to make it a 2-1 game. But Brandon Gomes checked in and got Nick Swisher to fly out on the first pitch.
Then, former Yankee Kyle Farnsworth closed things out in the ninth to give Shields the win in the rematch.
"Both pitched well, and sometimes you have to give credit to the other guy," Cano said. "[Shields] pitched outstanding the whole game."
Tampa Bay had to scratch and claw for everything it got off Sabathia, who came in with a Major League-leading 14 wins and a 0.45 ERA in his last five starts.
The Rays got on the board in the first on a solo homer by Evan Longoria, which snapped a streak of eight straight games in which the Yankees didn't allow a home run.
They then made it a 2-0 game on an RBI triple by Sam Fuld -- just the fourth extra-base hit and first triple Sabathia had allowed to a lefty all year.
The Rays had the bases empty with two outs that inning until Sabathia walked Elliot Johnson. Then, on a 1-2 count to Fuld, Sabathia's much-improved slider caught too much of the plate, and Fuld drilled it down the right-field line for the run that would eventually decide the game.
That one sat with Sabathia for a while.
"I don't think it was the wrong pitch, it was just a bad location," he said. "I wanted it down and away, and it stayed in, and he put a good swing on it."
Sabathia finished allowing two runs on five hits, four walks and eight strikeouts to run his ERA to 2.62. It was as good as he's pitched all throughout this incredible run he's had -- one that now has him at 11-2 with a 2.12 ERA since May 19 -- but it finished with a different result.
"Just two mistakes," said Sabathia, who fell one victory shy of tying his longest career winning streak.
"It's unfortunate that we only got one run," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, "but you're going to lose some games like that throughout the course of the season."
The Yankees wound up splitting the four-game series against the Rays, finishing 4-4 in their eight-game road trip to open the second half, and fell two games back of the idle Red Sox in the American League East.
"Obviously, you'd like to have done better, but after the way we started, losing the first two, we finished up pretty good," Girardi said about the trip. "It'll be nice to get off the turf and get home for a while."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.