ST. PETERSBURG — It was a two-out walk to Stephen Drew in the fifth inning Sunday afternoon that changed everything for the Tampa Bay Rays, much like the ninth-inning throwing error in Saturday’s loss.
One play, one moment. The door opened a crack, and the New York Yankees walked on through.
On Sunday, the two-out walk by Jeremy Hellickson led to a double then a two-run single, then another single and another run-scoring hit, and with the way Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda and the bullpen pitched, that was the ballgame.
The Yankees won 4-2 in front of a Tropicana Field crowd of 28,812 to win the rubber game of the three-game series and drop the Rays two games under .500.
It was the first time in 13 games the Rays allowed more than three runs.
“Kuroda was really good. Their bullpen was really good,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “But to get to the promised land you have to figure it out somehow.”
The Rays managed seven hits in Saturday’s 3-2 loss that turned in the ninth inning on a throwing error by second baseman Logan Forsythe.
They managed only five hits Sunday, with Kuroda retiring the next 17 batters after he allowed two first-inning singles that helped produce a 1-0 lead for the Rays.
All five of those hits came from the first four batters in the Rays lineup. The next five batters were a combined 0-for-16.
It was the kind of day where a two-out walk with no one on base in the fifth inning could be the turning point.
“When you don’t score any runs you’re going to dwell on this even more,” Maddon said. “(Hellickson) pitched well. We’ve been pitching not even well, we’ve been pitching great. It’s hard to pitch as well as we’ve been pitching. I can’t sit here and bemoan one or two bad pitches by our pitching staff, pitches that haven’t turned in our favor, because these guys have been really good.”
Hellickson, solid in his previous two starts, took a no-hitter into the fifth inning. He retired the first two batters he faced before walking Drew on a full count.
Hellickson got ahead 0-2 on Martin Prado and was up 1-2 in the count when Prado smoked a double into the left-field corner for the Yankees’ first hit.
Brett Gardner came to the plate with runners at second and third and drove them home with a two-strike single past Hellickson.
Derek Jeter kept the inning alive with another two-strike hit. Jacoby Ellsbury swung early in the count and singled home Gardner to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead.
“Getting on the board early against (Kuroda) with the stuff he had, 1-0 might have to stand,” Hellickson said. “So I gotta make big pitches when I need to and start putting guys away with two strikes.”
Hellickson threw 38 pitches that inning, 27 after he walked Drew.
When asked if Hellickson changed his approach or came out of his delivery after the walk to Drew, Maddon said, “Nope, nope, nope. He had two strikes on Prado, bullet in the corner. Two strikes on Gardner, ground ball up the middle. Two strikes on Jeter, chopper in the hole, and then Ellsbury, a hard ground ball to left field,” Maddon said. “He was totally within his abilities to finish that inning off and have nothing happen, because he was throwing the ball really well.”
Hellickson was finished after that inning. Jeff Beliveau and Kirby Yates each pitched a scoreless inning. Joel Peralta came in the eighth inning in what was a one-run ballgame after Evan Longoria singled home Matt Joyce in the seventh inning with his second RBI of the day.
But Peralta hung a curveball to Mark Teixeira and the Yankees first baseman drove it into the right-field seats for the Yankees’ fourth run of the day.
That snapped the Rays’ team record of 12 consecutive games where the pitchers allowed three or fewer runs. The Rays went 7-5 during the span, with four of the losses by 3-2 scores and three of those losses in extra innings.
“You’d like to win a little bit more than that when you have that kind of run going on,” Maddon said. “That’s like ’60s baseball. You’d like to take a little more advantage than 7-5.”