Payback must have felt good for the Rays on Sunday, as they scored 2 in the 9th inning to win the game and the series with the Red Sox. Starters Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz were strong throughout the game, but the result came down to the bullpens.
Both starters were in command to start the game. The Rays got two singles through the first 3 innings, while the Red Sox got 3 singles in the first 3 innings. The Rays scored first in the game in the 4th inning. B.J. Upton struck out to start off the inning, but Matt Joyce ripped a double in the right field corner. Right field neophyte Adrian Gonzalez played the ball well, but missed the cutoff man and Joyce was able to make it to 3rd base. Tampa took advantage of the error as Ben Zobrist managed to pull a tough changeup to the right side of the infield, scoring Joyce.
Hellickson really started to get in a groove in the middle frames. 9 batters came to the plate from the 4th-6th innings, and 9 outs were made. Hellickson was extremely efficient, getting a 9 pitch, a 12 pitch, and a 7 pitch inning.
In the top of the 6th the Rays had a chance to make some noise as Upton singled with one out and Joyce walked, but Zobrist impatiently swung at the first pitch and hit into a tailor-made double play. In the top of the 7th they were able to capitalize and scored their second run of the afternoon. With one out, Sean Rodriguez doubled off the wall in left. Drew Sutton then hit a sharp line drive to third base, but Will Middlebrooks made a great diving stab to make the 2nd out. Then, with his 3rd hit of the game, Will Rhymes singled to center, scoring Rodriguez and giving the Rays the 2-0 lead.
Entering the bottom of the 7th, the Rays looked to be in a good situation. They had a two-run lead and Hellickson had been dealing. In 6 innings he had given up only 4 hits and no walks on 68 pitches. His command had been excellent through the first 6 innings as well, throwing 53 strikes. He seemed to lose his control, as he walked David Ortiz on four pitches to lead off the inning and then gave up a single to Kevin Youkilis. Hellickson is known for his changeup, which most batters have trouble hitting even when they know it is coming. Adrian Gonzalez had no such trouble as he waited on the change with a 1-0 count and deposited it into the Monster seats in left field. Although he just gave up a lead-blowing 3-run home run, credit goes to Hellickson for finishing the inning strong with 3 quick outs.
Hellickson came out for the bottom of the 8th, but was eventually removed after giving up a single, a sacrifice bunt, a fly out, and an intentional walk to Ortiz. Jake McGee came in for Hellickson and succinctly walked Youkilis. Wade Davis was then brought in with the bases loaded, and got what ended up being the biggest out of the game, as Adrian Gonzalez grounded to first ending the threat.
With the bitter taste in their mouths from last night’s lost, the Rays wanted some drama of their own. Zobrist led off the inning with a walk, but Luke Scott popped out on the second pitch. With a 3-1 count, Sean Rodriguez crushed a juicy fastball down the middle for the go-ahead homerun that left Fenway in a hurry.
It was then Fernando Rodney’s turn to redeem his Saturday night outing. He shut the Sox down 1-2-3 and recorded his 16 save of the season.
Hellickson did not get a decision thanks to Rodriguez’s bomb, but he still had a great outing. He ended up pitching 7 2/3 innings allowing 7 hits and 2 walks. He struck out 3, and gave up 3 runs on Gonzalez’s homerun. Again, he started off very strong, and would have had a much better line if it weren’t for his poor 7th inning.
The Rays got 9 hits in the game, but 7 of them came from Joyce, Rodriguez, and Rhymes. Tampa now has the best record in baseball in 1 run games, with a lot of that credit going to their bullpen. The Rays get no rest on Memorial Day tomorrow, as they play the White Sox at home starting at 3:10.