Today was also Jose Molina's return from a hamstring injury. He would play inspired baseball, but that's not the focus in this loss.
Jeremy Hellickson was struggling with command - and specifically the curve - right out the gate. It was a slow start to the first inning made especially painful by a generous strikezone.
Kelly Johnson was able to make a catch and gun down an advancing Bautista at second base, but there was damage in the first: one run scored.
Hellickson got himself into trouble in the bottom of the third, fielding a 3-2 pop-up to Munenori Kawasaki that had him clipping Roberts, who was charging from third. Hellboy stepped on Roberts's back left foot and both players came away limping. Molina checked on Hellickson, and the game proceeded. No one left the dugout, and Hellboy seemed unphased.
The offense had very little support for Hellickson. The Rays started scoring after some great hustle by Molina to get on base. Ryan Roberts brought him home on a slow roller to Macier Izturis that he failed to field on an attempted barehand. The ball went right under his fingers and Molina was able to "rumble" home, as Dave Willis said.
Zobrist hit the next pitch into right and plated a runner for a 2-1 lead, but that was the last of the Rays offense for much of this game. Rodriguez led off the fourth with a double and then got himself picked off promptly on a throw from the catcher J.P. Arenciebia. He would be the last base runner for the Rays over the next 15 plate appearances.
Jose Bautista leveled the score in the bottom of the fourth on a powerful shot to left field -- his tenth longball of the year, reading a change inside perfectly. He swung in front and muscled it sky high. To be fair, this was the last hit for the Jays until the ninth inning as well, but let's not distract from the coming frustration.
It was another weird night for the strikezone, loose but consistent for Buehrle and strangely stringent on Hellickson.
For a taste of the nonsense, here's the zone from the full game:
Once Buehrle was removed, the zone settled in and became far more reasonable, but that didn't detract from the missed opportunities before. Especially watching seasoned hitters like Longoria, Zobrist and Johnson who were hesitant to change their approach early in the game. Buehrle was landing calls outside the zone that were normally contested, and the Rays offense just seemed unsure.
Either the strikezone back to normal or he was just ready to swing, because Longoria was comfortable reaching to pop a double off the end of the bat with one out in the ninth. The pitch was inches off the plate and Longoria pushed it up the right field line. The Rays were battling against ace reliever Casey Janssen, and James Loney put up a great performance, fouling until he found a pitch to hit and smacking a hopper up the middle to score the runner.
Luke Scott got in on the action, taking a 3-2 pitch to the wall in centerfield, but it was caught by Rasmus. The Jays let Janssen pitch through the drama and Kelly Johnson eventually took strike three looking.
Fernando Rodney, less than 22 hrs removed from a 5-out save yesterday, got the call to face the heart of Tornot'a order: Bautista, Encarnacion, and Lind.
Bautista worked a full count, in spite of Fernando throwing easy, 99 MPH heat. Forced to come back inside to get the out, Bautista hit a moon shot into the left field bullpen.
Rodney sat down E5 but walked Lind and was pulled for Peralta with the game tied , 3-3. Arencebia was lost against Peralta's fastball going down on multiple swings for the second out, and Brett Lawrie got jammed for a popup to Loney in foul territory to end the inning.
Molina continued his on-base ways by hitting through the hole on the left side, but Escobar responded with a double play, and Jennings grounded out to short.
Cesar Ramos took the mound and almost got Rasmus on a swinging bunt, but he made contact and the ball rolled out of Molina's reach. Bonifacio followed suit and started showing bunt. The Rays defense responded, Boni would swing. Step back, and Jays manager Gibbons would put the bunt back on. It was a frustrating chess match that ended in a sac-bunt, moving Rasmus to second.
With one out, Kawasaki was next. He worked a long at bat as well, ending in a bouncer slow toward second. Roberts, having moved to second when the Rays lifted the DH to put Longoria at third, charged and made the difficult throw to get the out at first.
A pinch hitting Mark DeRosa was the last man standing between Ramos and the 11th, with Rasmus now on third. DeRosa took a walk easily on 5 pitches and Maddon made the move for a righty, bringing in Kyle Farnsworth to face Jose Bautista.
Bautista, who had made it on base in all four plate appearances previously, took an 0-2 fastball outside and made it a looper into right. Jays win.
Hellickson went eight innings with improving control throughout the night, pitching like a professional through and through. He rebounded well from a poort start and showed strong velocity through eight innings. Too bad the Rays offense had a bad day. Sorry you couldn't get the win, Hellboy.