Jeremy Hellickson threw more pitches in the first inning than he had in any other inning of his major-league career, and one of those was a hanging change-up that became a two-run home run, which, as it turned out, was the game-changer.
It wasn't a deep hole that Hellickson dug, but backed by an offense that was flat at best, it was deep enough.
The A's walked out of a heavily guarded Tropicana Field on Saturday with a 4-2 victory. Oakland has won eight of its past 10, including two of three games during the series to move to within a half-game of the Rays in the American League wild-card standings.
Security was beefed up at the Trop with Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies bracing for disruptions associated with this week's Republican National Convention in Tampa.
Nothing transpired, though. Just a game between teams fighting for a playoff spot.
Rays manager Joe Maddon sensed a little hangover in his team following Friday's 5-4 loss, one in which the Rays felt they were in a good position to win until former Ray Jonny Gomes hit a two-out, two-run homer off Joel Peralta in the eighth inning for the winning runs.
Maddon compared the final two games of the A's series with the final two games against the Mariners in Seattle during the recent road trip. The Rays blew a ninth-inning lead in the first game and were on the wrong end of Felix Hernandez's perfect game the following afternoon.
"The guys have been playing hard for a while, there's been no off days. There's no finger pointing or blame," Maddon said. "We just have to move beyond this, take the day off and fly to Texas."
The Rays open a three-game series Monday with the Rangers, and they are hoping to pick up where they left off during their last road trip when they won eight of 10 games and made a surge up the wild-card standings.
Saturday's loss gave them a 3-3 record on the homestand.
While A's starter Brandon McCarthy didn't come close to matching Hernandez's gem, he was his usual self against the Rays, and that means he was plenty good.
McCarthy survived a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the second and held the Rays to two runs in his seven innings of four-hit ball. He is 3-0 with a 0.76 ERA in his past five starts against the Rays.
"He pitches well against us," Maddon said. "He knows how to elevate his fastball, he had a really good curveball and cutter going. He hits his spots. Every time we see him we don't get good swings at him. … He's got our swing path number. It's incredible. He misses our bats."
Carlos Peña, who was 0-for-3 and heard some boos from the crowd, said McCarthy's command was outstanding.
"It was one of those days where I felt like we got beat, because we can't sit here and say McCarthy was not on. He was on," Peña said.
Hellickson threw 41 pitches in the first inning. Coco Crisp doubled down the right-field line to start things off and Stephen Drew followed with an infield hit. Hellickson got Yoenis Cespedes to pop up to Peña. He then struck out Seth Smith. Drew was running on the pitch and stole the base when Jose Lobaton's throw sailed into center field, allowing Crisp to score.
Still, Hellickson was one pitch away from getting out of the jam.
Chris Carter jumped on Hellickson's next pitch — a hanging change-up — and hit a two-run homer into the left-field seats.
"First and third with no outs, I did a good job of limiting the damage and (to) make a pitch like that when I could have gotten out of it is pretty frustrating," Hellickson said.
Hellickson, who fell to 8-9 and is 1-5 following a Rays loss, lasted five innings. It was the seventh time this season he failed to start the sixth inning.
He settled down, though, allowing only two more hits — one was a home run by Smith to start the third inning.
Maddon didn't have much to say about Hellickson other than he is a competitor and he made just one bad pitch.
"We just have to be able to score more than two runs," Maddon said. "I got to give Oakland credit. They're playing real well right now. … They're playing with a lot of energy, so I have to give them credit, but we have to do better."