The Tampa Bay Rays got even on Sunday afternoon. No, Jeremy Hellickson did not plunk a Boston Red Sox hitter in response to the beaning of Luke Scott. Instead, it was Sean Rodriguez landing the big blow against Bobby Valentine’s team. After watching Fernando Rodney blow his first save of the season in grand fashion in the previous game, Rodriguez returned the favor with a two-run, go-ahead home run in the ninth inning against Sox closer Alfredo Aceves.
Like the Red Sox on Saturday, the Rays entered the ninth inning down one run. And just like Boston the day before, Tampa Bay led off the inning with a walk. While Ben Zobrist played the role of Daniel Nava, Rodriguez served as the Rays’ Jarrod Saltalamacchia, belting a two-run blast with one out in the ninth. It was Rodriguez’s fifth home run of the season. All five of the infielder’s home runs have come against right-handed pitchers – the type of pitching he has historically struggled against. However, he had no issues turning on a 93-MPH fastball from Aceves and depositing it into the parking lot located beyond the Green Monster.
Rodriguez’s home run gave the Rays the lead, but it was up to Fernando Rodney to preserve the slim, one-run margin. After blowing his first save on Saturday, Rodney was perfect on Sunday en route to his 16th save. The right-hander faced his nemesis – Saltalmacchia – in the bottom of the ninth, but retired him on a pair of changeups. This was a different approach than the one he took on Saturday when “Salty” beat him on a pair of fastballs.
For the second straight game, the Rays’ starter held the talented Red Sox lineup at bay. Following David Price (7 IP, 1 ER) Jeremy Hellickson allowed three runs in 7.2 innings on Sunday. All of three runs came on one-swing – a three-run home run by Adrian Gonzalez in the seventh inning.
Other than the mistake to Gonzalez, the young right-hander kept Boston in check with a simple fastball/changeup attack. Of his 106 pitches, 103 of them were a variation of the fastball (four-season, two-seam, and cutter) or a changeup. He did not rack up many whiffs, nor did he miss a large amount of bats; however, he did induce a number of routine flyballs including a handful of infield flies.
The ninth-inning heroics were set up by solid work out of the bullpen by Jake McGee. The left-hander came in relief of Wade Davis, who relieved Hellickson, to induce a key groundball out from Gonzalez with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth. McGee also worked a perfect inning-and-one-third in Friday’s victory.
With tensions high after the series opener, the Rays responded in the best way possible: a series victory in Fenway Park. Two outs shy of a sweep, Tampa Bay returns home to face the Chicago White Sox in a Memorial Day matinee. In a match-up of young lefties, Chicago’s Chris Sale will face Matt Moore of the Rays.
Moore, who has struggled putting hitters away with two strikes as well as two outs, could take a page from Hellickson’s playbook. Blessed with a high-octane fastball, Moore could stand to induce some easy pop-ups with well-located, but elevated, heaters. He could also generate some weaker contact – and whiffs – by wisely incorporating his changeup in fastball counts.
The Rays (29-19) enter Memorial Day as co-owners of first place in the American League East.