ST. PETERSBURG -- Friday night, the Rays broke out of their losing skid with an offensive outburst that, they hoped, would get them rolling on a winning streak.
Indeed, Tampa Bay won on consecutive nights for just the second time this season, but Saturday's 1-0 victory against Oakland -- their first 1-0 win since April 16, 2012 -- came through a much more familiar formula: pitching and defense.
The game's lone run came on Matt Joyce's solo homer to right field off A's right-hander Jarrod Parker in the second inning, and Jeremy Hellickson and the Rays' sharp defense took care of the rest, not letting an Oakland baserunner get past first base all night.
"Just watching [Hellickson] in the outfield, it seemed like he put the ball where he wanted to with pretty much all of his pitches," said Joyce, whose only other homer this year was also a game-winner, a walk-off solo shot on April 3 against the Orioles. "They're a great-hitting team, and for Jeremy to come out and shut them down was huge for us."
Hellickson provided the first half of the Rays' proven formula, dealing seven shutout innings. He gave up only three hits and a walk while striking out six on 100 pitches, 66 of them for strikes. Hellickson has now allowed three earned runs or fewer in 60 of his 68 career starts, and he's scattered five hits or fewer in 39 starts over the past three seasons, second-most in the American League behind only C.J. Wilson.
"Helly had a great look about him tonight. I loved it, absolutely loved it," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "The thing I want our guys to understand is that it's about us dictating to the other side. You look at scouting reports, whatever, and of course they're very useful, but at the end of the day, you always play to your strength first. And that's what Helly did tonight."
The key on Saturday night, Hellickson said, was to be aggressive in the strike zone and get ahead of the A's equally-aggressive hitters. It was his first start this season without surrendering a homer, and the Rays used a double play to immediately erase his only walk of the game.
"Honestly, I felt as good this game as I had in the other games," Hellickson said. "As long as I think I'm making them string some hits together and making them keep the ball in the yard, I think I can do that a lot."
"He pitched well is what he did," added A's manager Bob Melvin. "He used his curveball and changeup effectively and kept us off-balance."
After Hellickson left the game, the Rays' reliable one-two bullpen punch carried them the rest of the way. Setup man Joel Peralta struck out a batter in a perfect eighth inning, and Fernando Rodney picked up his second save of the year and his first since April 10. Coco Crisp reached on an error by Ryan Roberts, but it was Rodney's first outing this season without a hit or a walk and his fourth straight scoreless appearance.
"That looked like last year. It also looked like what we saw in the WBC," Maddon said of Rodney. "Very aggressive strike-throwing with the fastball, and then the changeup plays off of that."
Tampa Bay also benefited from another strong defensive showing, which included two double plays -- one of them certainly more uncommon than the other.
In the third inning, Desmond Jennings turned a rare unassisted, inning-ending double play in center field. Jennings raced into shallow left field to snag Crisp's fly ball. Eric Sogard had been at first base but was running on contact and figured the ball would fall for a hit, so he was too far along to turn around and get back to first. That gave Jennings as long as he needed to complete the double play, and he opted to jog into the infield on his way back to the dugout rather than make the throw back to first baseman James Loney.
"I figured it hadn't happened too many times," Jennings said. "So I wanted to do it myself, I guess."
Jennings became the first Rays center fielder to ever turn an unassisted double play and the first Major League center fielder to physically complete an unassisted double play at first base since Pittsburgh's Andy Van Slyke did so on July 7, 1992, against Houston, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"I thought it might have been the first one ever, in the world," Maddon quipped. "An eight-unassisted double play is an unusual play."
The Rays turned another double play in the fifth, slightly more conventional but no less important in a one-run game. With Derek Norris at first base, Yunel Escobar leaped straight up to reel in a line drive by Josh Reddick, came down and made a sharp, pinpoint throw to Loney to force out Norris.
Aside from Joyce's full-count blast to right field, Tampa Bay's offense didn't have much success against Parker or Oakland's bullpen. The Rays whiffed on their best opportunity to put up a crooked number in the fifth inning, when Ben Zobrist grounded out to first base with two outs and the bases loaded.
But the Rays didn't need more than one run. Friday night was about their offense. Saturday, they went back to their old routine and found that it still works just fine.
"We're going to take a win any way we can get it. For us to go out and score one run, and the pitching staff to hold them to nothing is outstanding," Joyce said. "Just to have that comfort out there and that confidence that our pitching and defense is going to hold another team, it's great. It's a great confidence-builder."