A three-run lead was in danger after the Baltimore Orioles put the first two runners on base to bring the tying run to the plate. Where would it go?
Hellickson pitched his way out of the jam, the offense put the game out of reach with five more runs in the bottom of the inning and the Rays rolled to an 8-0 victory in front of 21,834 at Tropicana Field.
"That was huge," Hellickson said. "Not even I can blow an eight-run lead."
The Rays jumped over the Orioles and into third place in the American League East with their 10th win in their past 13 games. They are a season-high seven games over .500.
The Rays have also held the Orioles offense, ranked third in the majors with 5.02 runs per game, to just one run through the first two games of this series.
"A day like (Saturday) is something we hope to continue to do the rest of the season," said Ben Zobrist, who was 3-for-5 with two doubles.
Plenty of offense and plenty of pitching.
"When those things go together the sky’s the limit for this team," Zobrist said.
Having Hellickson pitch like Hellickson will go a long way toward helping this team fly. He allowed four hits in six innings to win back-to-back starts for the first time since July. He allowed two hits in the first inning and two hits in the fifth. In between he retired 10 straight batters.
"I thought he was really good," Zobrist said. "I felt the first couple of innings he didn’t look as sharp, but the third inning it was boom, they didn’t have a chance."
Hellickson was throwing everything down in the strike zone — his fastball, his off-speed pitches. Several times this season Hellickson got himself in trouble by trying to work the corners. He would fall behind, leave a pitch or two over the plate and before he could right himself, the other team was back in the game.
Against the Orioles he pounded the strike zone.
"Just a more aggressive attitude by him," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Hellickson was working on a 3-0 lead entering the fifth inning thanks to an RBI single by Evan Longoria in the first inning and run-scoring singles by Yunel Escobar and Zobrist in the second. But Matt Wieters and J.J. Hardy both singled to start the fifth.
Maddon watched his pitcher for signs of stress and didn’t see any.
"I thought he looked good during the whole moment," Maddon said. "There’s times this year when I thought things would begin to speed up a little bit when that would occur. I didn’t see that."
The fastball remained around 92, and Hellickson’s demeanor didn’t change.
He struck out Chris Dickerson for the first out and nearly got out of the jam with a 3-6-1 double play, but Ryan Flaherty beat Hellickson to the first base bag.
No problem. Hellickson got Nate McLouth to fly out to left field.
"It looked really familiar," Maddon said. "That’s what I’m used to seeing."
Hellickson said he wasn’t thinking of letting another lead slip away. He just continued to do what he had been doing over the first four innings.
"He shut the door right there," Zobrist said. "And that was probably the biggest spot right there, getting out of a situation like that for him, given the way the season has gone, is big encouragement that maybe things are going to turn around in that direction."
A bases-loaded triple by Luke Scott was a big hit in the five-run fifth, and Hellickson and the bullpen took it from there.
Hellickson, who will tell you he hasn’t been awful this season, will admit there is room for improvement.
"I expect a lot more than what I’ve been doing," he said. "It was a good start and I want to continue what I did (Saturday). It feels a lot better to pitch good than bad."
Tampa Bay Rays
Hellickson, Rays cruise past Orioles
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