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TB 7 - OAK 3: Hellickson, Rays offense rise to the challenge of Sonny Gray

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Jeremy Hellickson turned in his best performance in more than a year, and the Rays stymied baseball's best starter on baseball's best team, preventing the series sweep in Oakland.

After two difficult losses to bear, Jeremy Hellickson put the Rays in a position to succeed early in Stadium. He needed just eight pitches for the first inning, including two line outs (the latter caught by a charging and diving Desmond Jennings), and a strikeout of Josh Donaldson, and continued working efficiently: ten pitches in the second, fourteen in the third.

The Rays, facing July pitcher-of-the-month Sonny Gray, had stranded two in the top of the first, but Yunel Escobar and Cole Figueroa hit back-to-back singles on two-seamers from Gray, both driving the ball up the middle. Jose Molina moved the runners on a quality sac-bunt to Gray,  and Kevin Kiermaier moved the runners once more on a fielder's choice to second. A fielder's choice ended the inning. 1-0 Rays

Jumping on arguably the A's best starter early was a necessity, and the Rays could have continued the trend in the third by not swinging.

Entering the third with 28 pitches, Gray walked Zobrist on five pitches, then Joyce on four pitches, including three checks at first base. Evan Longoria went down looking at a borderline fastball, but James Loney followed by taking a borderline curve to loaded the bases. One out and bases juiced. Yunel grounded into a FC at home, Figueroa popped out softly to right field. All of the LOBs.

In the fourth, however, we got some life.

453260584.0_mediumPhoto credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The slumping offense batting eighth and ninth in the line up turned it around. Jose Molina led the inning with an infield single to Josh Donaldson, a sentence I never thought I would type, then Kevin Kiermaier found a first-pitch change up to hit, and drove it to the towering right field seats. The homerun trot was painfully slow, with Jose Molina moving like molasses but huffing the best he could, and KK had a laugh by charging past him to the dugout to celebrate as soon as they touched home. Still, aggressive hitting from both padded the lead, 3-0 Rays

Later in the inning, Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria were able to take advantage of misplays by Coco Crisp, recovering from a neck injury but fielding center. Zorilla was able to test his arm by hustling to second with one out, then Longoria's bloop fell short of Crisp's glove. He booted the ball, letting Zobrist advance home. James Loney followed with a single, but Sam Fuld was able to field from the left field bullpen and catch Loney legging out the double. 4-0 Rays

Coco wasn't all bad news, however, leading the home side of the fourth with a single off a 2-2 change high in the zone from Hellickson, his first base runner on the afternoon. He responded with a line out and two K's, including Brandon Moss swinging on his 22nd pitch on the inning. Less efficient, but still effective, with Crisp limited to one bag.

The Rays put runners on the corners on a single to left field by Yunel and a Figgy FC botched by Eric Sogard, a tip off the glove letting the runner advance to third, with Figueroa staying at first. Jose Molina struck out, but Kevin Kiermaier took a pitch off the hand. Desmond Jennings finally connected from there on a fastball left up in the zone, an easy single to center scoring two more and chasing Sonny Gray from the game. 6-0 Rays

Further scoring updates:

- Momentary Rays player Jesse Chavez replaced Gray, with KK and DJ on the corners with one out, and Zobrist hit the first pitch in the zone he saw. 7-0 Rays

- Helly pitched a clean fifth, bringing his count up to 64 with 41 for strikes, but lost his shut out to Eric Sogard in the sixth, a home run on a fastball down and in. 7-1 Rays

- Grant Balfour was hoping to close out the game, but succumbed to the Athletics' fighting spirit. After a strikeout and lineout, he allowed a single, a walk, and another single with one out remaining in the game, scoring two. The next batter, Alberto Callaspo, tapped out to conclude the game. 7-3 Rays

20140806_ajl_ax5_201.jpg.0_mediumPhoto credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Game Notes:

- Hellickson's final line: 7.0 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 ER, 99-62 pitches - the first time he pitched through seven innings since July 5, 2013. Joel Peralta worked a clean eighth with a K, but Grant Balfour had difficulty finding some good feelings.

- After allowing only four runs in the month of July, starter Sonny Gray matched his previous month's total in just four innings of his first start in August. Gray's line: 4.1 IP, 10 H, 4 BB, 3 K, 6 ER, 90-50

- Three Rays players were knicked in the hand this afternoon, with a foul ball clipping Jose Molina early in the game, Yunel having a hand crushed under Josh Donaldson's knee on a pick off play, and KK's HBP in the fifth.