Before we knew it, it was happening again. Jeremy Hellickson was pitching great, allowing just 1 run on 4 hits and a walk through 6 innings, striking out 6 in the process. But Helickson’s season thus far has cemented firmly in our minds just how important the finish is for a starting pitcher and once again, Hellickson came apart. Andy Dirks began the inning with a bloop to left field that turned into a double. Omar Infante followed with a groundball, but it was perfectly place up the middle for a single. Hellickson then walked Jhonny Peralta, and despite the fact that Hellickson had thrown just 85 pitches, Joe Maddon knew he had to take him out. The bases were loaded and nobody was out, and the Rays had to hope that Jake McGee would deliver.
Earlier in the season, the Rays taking out their starting pitcher was always a dicey proposition. No matter how bad the starter was looking at the end of his outing, Rays fans came to expect that the pitcher who came in would only be worse. However, the Rays bullpen has spent the last couple of months changing that perception, if not in the eyes of fans then certainly in the eyes of Joe Maddon. When Hellickson began to falter, Maddon was ready to take him out not only because he was scared he wouldn’t be able to collect himself, but also because he trusted his bullpen and he believed in the pitcher he was bringing in, Jake McGee. McGee delivered a performance that made sure everyone knew that Maddon’s trust was warranted.
McGee overpowered Bryan Holaday on a fastball and forced him to hit a weak flyball to right field that was too shallow for the run to score. Then he got ahead of Austin Jackson 1-2 before fooling him on a slider and forcing him to hit a groundball to third base that Kelly Johnson converted for a force out at home. And finally, he beat Torii Hunter on a 96 MPH fastball for another flyball, and the inning was over. It was not the most dominant that we’ve seen McGee, but with the game on the line, he found a way to keep one of the best offenses in baseball from getting anything against him. All McGee gets for his efforts is a “hold” while Hellickson received the win and keeps his ERA tidy. But it was McGee who deserves the credit for making sure this game turned into an excellent Rays win and not another devastating loss. And you also to wonder how different Hellickson’s season could have been if Joe Maddon knew he had a pitcher like Jake McGee behind Hellickson ready to do everything in his power to lead the Rays to victory.
Kyle Farnsworth replaced McGee to face Miguel Cabrera and forced him to line out before Joel Peralta finished the 8th and Fernando Rodney worked around a hit with 2 strikeouts in the 9th to seal the Rays’ 3-1 victory. Combine Hellickson’s 6 strong innings to start the game with a bullpen looking as strong as ever and just enough from the Rays offense (including 2 RBI from Jose Lobaton), and you have yourself a team that can beat anyone in baseball. The Detroit Tigers are an excellent team and at the end of the year, they will probably win the AL Central. The Rays beat them 2 times in 3 games. The Rays will hope to keep the momentum going on Monday at 8:10 PM EST at Minute Maid Park as they take on the Astros.