Rays leapfrog O's in standings with shutout
Big offensive day backs Hellickson's six scoreless innings
ST. PETERSBURG -- All innings should go so well for the Rays as the fifth of Saturday's late-afternoon affair at Tropicana Field.
Jeremy Hellickson protected a three-run lead in the top half by escaping a jam, then sat and watched as the offense put the game away in the bottom half en route to an 8-0 Rays win.
"It was huge, getting out of that with a zero and the bottom half putting up a five spot," Hellickson said. "Kind of putting the game out of reach. Not even me, I can't even blow an eight-run lead. It was nice to get out of that fifth."
By winning, the Rays claimed their three-game series with the Orioles while moving to 34-27 and switching places with the Orioles to take over third place in the American League East.
"You have to climb over the group in front of you and keep moving forward," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Hellickson made his 13th start of the season and had posted four scoreless innings entering the fifth.
The Rays right-hander has pitched well in many of his starts -- save for one inning when the opposing team has posted a crooked number. Given that background, thought bubbles above the heads of the 21,834 fans at Tropicana Field most likely read, "Uh oh, here we go again" when Matt Wieters and J.J. Hardy started the fifth with back-to-back singles.
But Hellickson recovered to strike out Chris Dickerson for the first out, then he got Ryan Flaherty to hit into a forceout. Of note, Hellickson did not get rattled when Flaherty was called safe at first on a close play that saw him take shortstop Yunel Escobar's relay.
Calmly, Hellickson then retired Nate McLouth on a flyout to left to end the inning without any runs scoring.
"We'd like to have pushed something across there," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "That was an opportunity. He's a good pitcher. He's one of those guys that you know what he's going to do. We see him enough and they see us enough that there's not many secrets. And they continue to do it.
"Changeup's a big pitch for him, and it tells you how good it is when guys know the sequences and whatever and still have some trouble with it."
Keeping the feel-good moment intact, the Rays' offense created an opportunity to put the game away in the bottom half of the inning and followed through.
Ben Zobrist opened the fifth with his third hit of the game, a double off rookie Kevin Gausman, and he moved to third on a flyout. After Evan Longoria walked, James Loney singled to drive home Zobrist. Desmond Jennings then walked to chase Gausman.
Left-hander T.J. McFarland took over to pitch to left-handed hitting Luke Scott, and the former Orioles slugger delivered a bases-clearing triple to right field.
"It was huge," said Scott, who entered the game with just five hits in his last 43 at-bats. "I've been going through some adversity before. It's never fun. It's never easy, but at the same time it makes you stronger."
Jose Lobaton followed with a double to left that scored Scott to complete the five-run inning, putting the Rays up, 8-0.
Scott called the fifth inning a "huge momentum shift."
"It was really big, because Baltimore and their offense, at any given time they can put runs up in a hurry," Scott said. "And they have a really good bullpen. Any time you can jump out to a lead and put some distance between you, it definitely helps and allows our pitchers to do their thing. ... And just a great job by Helly."
Hellickson allowed no runs on four hits while striking out five in six innings to earn his fourth win of the season. It was his second scoreless outing of the season and the first time he won back-to-back decisions since July 24-29. He has not allowed a walk in his last two starts.
"That does a lot for his self confidence right there," Maddon said. "Again, he used to do that all the time, and it's gotten away from him a little bit, and he's reminded what this is supposed to feel like in a good way."
Alex Torres, Jamey Wright, and Kyle Farnsworth cleaned up the final three innings to secure the shutout. All told, Rays pitchers retired the final 12 Orioles hitters. The shutout was the Rays' seventh of the season, tying them for second most in the American League this year. Only the Indians have more with eight.
Overall, the Rays left after Saturday's game feeling pretty good about their team.
"Great pitching and a good balanced attack offense," Scott said. "And when we do that we're very difficult to beat. ... We're doing a good job on both sides. I really believe you do both sides well at the same time we can compete with anybody and are very difficult to beat. The guys on the mound throw up zeros and the guys in the lineup score runs and have good at-bats, it's a formula for success."