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Wild Card Race Tightens As A's Defeat Rays 4-2 To Take Series

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During the course of a 162 game season there are days when the team just seems to lack energy. Today seemed to be one of those days for the Rays. Part of that may be that today is the conclusion of a stretch where the Rays played 19 games in 19 days and despite losing the last two games finished the stretch 14-5.

Jeremy Hellickson took the loss dropping his record to 9-9, 3.42 ERA. He struggled with his command throughout the day but battled through a 41 pitch first inning giving up 3R/ER on 4 hits, and a hit batter. He managed to claw his way through 5 innings allowing 4R/ER on 6 hits, striking out 5, walking 0, and hitting a batter. The Rays bullpen was strong as Burke Badenhop, J.P. Howell, Kyle Farnsworth, and Jake McGee combined to shut down the A's over the final 4 innings allowing only 3 hits and striking out 5 and walking 0.

Brandon McCarthy earned the victory to improve his record to 7-5, 3.12 ERA by delivering 7 strong innings giving up 2R/ER on 4 hits while striking out 7, walking 2, and hitting one batter. Sean Doolittle worked a scoreless 8th inning and Grant Balfour came in to work a scoreless ninth to earn his 14th save of the year.

The loss drops the Rays to 70-57 and 4 games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East but remain 1/2 game ahead of the Oakland A's for the top spot in the wild card race, a game ahead and a game ahead of the Baltimore Orioles. The A's improved their record to 69-57 and trail the Texas Rangers by 5.5 games in the AL West.

In games of interest to Rays fans the Yankees are in Cleveland and will send Hiroki Kuroda against Justin Masterson and the Cleveland Indians at 7:05 and the Baltimore Orioles are at home and will send Steve Johnson to the hill to take on Brandon Morrow and the Toronto Blue Jays at 7:05.

Game highlights after the jump.

The A's jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning. Coco Crisp led off the game with a double and moved to third on an infield single off the bat of Stephen Drew. Hellickson came back to retire Yoenis Cespedes on a pop up to Carlos Pena and struck out Seth Smith. Unfortunately, Stephen Drew was running on the pitch and Jose Lobaton's throw sailed into center field allowing Coco Crisp to score from third and Hellickson hung the next pitch to Chris Carter who lined a 2-run homer to left to give the A's their 3-0 lead.

The Rays cut the lead to 3-1 in the bottom of the second inning. They loaded the bases with nobody out on a Luke Scott bunt single, a Carlos Pena hit by pitch, and a Ryan Roberts single. Scott came in to score on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Jose Lobaton but McCarthy was able to limit the damage by retiring Desmond Jennings on a fly out to shallow center and striking out Sam Fuld.

The A's regained their 3 run lead in the top of the third inning on a solo homer by Seth Smith to give the A's a 4-1 lead.

Desmond Jennings cut into the A's lead by hitting his 10th homer of the year, a solo shot, in the bottom of the 5th inning.

Pitching Rules

The Rays pitchers did not walk a batter, J.P. Howell extended his scoreless inning streak to 26.2 innings (ML record for Relief Pitchers is 39 innings), and Jake McGee struck out the side after the A's had runners on 2nd and 3rd and nobody out in the ninth inning.