Late life means nothing if you’re leaving fastballs over the middle of the plate.
The Rays were desperate to come away from their series with the Mets with something. The previous two games were embarrassing: an 11-2 loss and a 9-1 loss. They narrowly missed getting no-hit by R.A. Dickey on Wednesday night. They were just hoping that Thursday would be better. It was- but better is a comparative word.
The Rays immediately knew they were in trouble when Jeremy Hellickson allowed a leadoff homer to Kirk Nieuwenhuis on the second pitch of the game. Then Jason Bay homered in the second inning and suddenly the Rays were down 2-0. But then we saw the bats come alive just a little bit against Johan Santana. Hideki Matsui singled (advancing to 2nd on an error) and Ben Zobrist walked to begin the inning before Matt Joyce drilled a 2-run double to tie the game. Three batters later, Elliot Johnson singled in Joyce to give the Rays a 3-2 lead. But it was short-lived. Hellickson allowed a Lucas Duda sac fly and an Ike Davis RBI single in the 3rd to give the Mets a 4-3 lead. Ben Zobrist tied the game in the bottom of the inning with an RBI double. And then, the Mets pulled away.
There were two outs and nobody on when Omar Quintinilla singled and then Nieuwenhuis slammed his second homer of the game to give the Mets a 6-3 lead. Then Hellickson hit Jordany Valdespin with a pitch. With Jason Bay at the plate, Valdespin broke for second on Jose Molina‘s throw was right on the money- but the ball popped out of Ben Zobrist’s glove and the inning continued. Lucas Duda ended Hellickson’s afternoon with a 2-run double before Cesar Ramos escaped the jam. Hellickson went just 3.2 innings allowing 8 runs on 9 hits, striking out not a single batter while walking 1. Hellickson’s command was off, especially on his best pitch, his changeup, and he simply could not miss bats and put away hitters. Jeremy Hellickson isn’t a pitcher who’s going to strike out a lot of guys, but we’ve seen him able to bear down and get big K’s when he has needed them. Not on this afternoon.
The Rays had their chance to get right back in the game in the 6th. Hideki Matsui singled to begin the frame against Santana before Ben Zobrist doubled and Matt Joyce walked to load the bases, ending Santana’s outing. The Rays had the bases loaded with nobody out. But in came Jon Rauch and he struck out Sean Rodriguez and the pinch-hitter Jose Lobaton before forcing Elliot Johnson to ground out to end the threat. That would prove costly.
Fernando Rodney let up a garbage-time run in the 9th on a David Wright single, a wild pitch, and an Ike Davis RBI base-knock. Miguel Batista came into the game trying to finish it off for the Mets. But with 1 out, Jose Lobaton walked and Elliot Johnson blooped a single. Desmond Jennings lined his first base hit of the series, an opposite field RBI single, and suddenly the Rays were more baserunner away from putting the tying run at the plate. Mets manager Terry Collins brought in closer Frank Francisco into what had become a save situation. Carlos Pena hit a groundball to second base, but Desmond Jennings beat Omar Quintanilla to the bag as a run scored to make it a 9-6 game. After B.J. Upton struck out, Hideki Matsui drew a tough walk, loading the bases for Ben Zobrist. But after a 7-pitch at-bat and a bullet line drive foul, Zobrist struck out on a check-swing as the Mets won 9-6, sweeping the Rays. Santana (4-3) was the winner in the game, while Hellickson (4-3) took the loss, and Francisco managed his 16th save. The Rays finally got something in the latter innings, but Hellickson’s debacle and their failure to score with the bases loaded and no men out in the 6th was the difference in the game. The Rays go out from this series shaking their heads trying to figure out what just happened. It’s just three games, but it was not pretty. The Rays hope another meeting with their in-state rival Miami Marlins and rejuvenate them and get them back on track. Matt Moore opposes Carlos Zambrano in the opener as the Rays look to get back on the winning path.