The Tampa Bay Rays fought hard, but their struggles in August continued as they fell to the Toronto Blue Jays by a score of 5-4 in 10 innings. It was no fault of Jeremy Hellickson, who had a solid start for the Rays. Rather, it was the bullpen that would be their undoing.
Jeremy Hellickson had a nice start for the Rays, going 6.1 innings and allowing 2 runs on just 3 hits and 1 walk while striking out 8. Really the 3rd inning was the only time Hellickson had a hiccup- he allowed 2 of 3 hits, both runs, and his only walk in the frame. With a little help from Brandon Guyer, who misread a ball in the outfield that ended up an RBI double, this start would have looked even better. They key for Hellickson was his curveball complementing his fastball and changeup well. Considered his weakest pitch, Hellickson’s curveball has shown flashes of being a better pitch this season, and he has also been commanding it well. Hellickson’s fastball-changeup combo is almost always going to be solid, but when his curveball is working well all of a sudden his arsenal looks much more intimidating.
With Hellickson having thrown just 95 pitches, Joe Maddon elected to go to the bullpen to bring in shutdown reliever Brad Boxberger rather than let Hellickson finish the 7th. That would come back to hurt the Rays, as Boxberger allowed a double and then a 2-run homer to take a Rays’ 1-run lead and make it a 1-run deficit. After Boxberger allowed another double, the Rays were forced to turn to Grant Balfour, who managed to get the final two outs of the inning. Balfour came back out to throw a scoreless 8th inning as well. Joel Peralta followed, throwing a shutout 9th inning. Peralta then came back in for the 10th, allowing a baserunner and getting 2 outs. The Rays then turned to Jeff Beliveau, but he let the inherited runner score and the Blue Jays had the walk-off victory.
The Rays got the scoring started in the top of the 3rd when a Ben Zobrist bunt single brought home Sean Rodriguez. Down by a run in the 7th, Jose Molina tied things up with an RBI single. Rodriguez then smacked an RBI double to put the Rays ahead. After the Jays took a 1-run lead, the Rays tied up the game in the top of the 9th when a James Loney single brought home Wil Myers. The Rays lost a big chance to take the go-ahead run in the same inning, as a Kevin Kiermaier baserunning mistake cost the Rays an out and a man on third.
Rodriguez had a nice day at the plate, going 2 for 3 with a run scored and an RBI. Zobrist also did a good job, going 2 for 5 with an RBI. Myers also showed signs of life, going 1 for 4 with a walk and 2 runs scored. He still likely isn’t 100% back up to speed- he hasn’t played in the field since being activated from the 60-day DL. But he is starting to look better at the plate, and that is a good sign moving forward.
There was also a bit of controversy in this game, and we may not have heard the last of it. In the 4th inning, the Blue Jays challenged a play at 1st base in which Myers was rule safe on a pick off attempt. The replay ended up being overturned, and the inning ended for the Rays. Replays showed Myers was out, however Joe Maddon took issue with the manner in which the umpires allowed the replay. With Jays’ pitcher Mark Buehrle on the mound and Yunel Escobar in the batter’s box, the Jays challenged the play at the last second. Maddon came out to argue that the Jays should not have been allowed to challenge the play so late, and he ended up putting the game under protest. By rule umpires are supposed to ensure that a manager challenges a play in a timely manner. It doesn’t seem likely that the Rays will win the protest on such a subjective rule, but there is at least a non-zero chance.