ST. PETERSBURG — The reeling Texas Rangers started a relief pitcher Tuesday night and were prepared to try to steal a victory with a bullpen.
The Tampa Bay Rays started Jeremy Hellickson, confident his August struggles were behind him after a pair of good starts this month.
By the fifth inning, one team had used three pitchers and a fourth was warming in the bullpen.
That team wasn’t the Rangers.
Ian Kinsler homered on the first pitch Hellickson threw in the top of the first inning, and whatever momentum the Rays mustered with Monday’s win seemed to disappear with it into the left-field seats.
The Rays lost 7-1 in front of 10,786 fans at Tropicana Field.
They also lost their one-game lead in the American League wild-card standings over the Rangers.
The Cleveland Indians won Tuesday night as well, drawing to within a half-game of both the Rays and Rangers with room for only two in the postseason.
Rays manager Joe Maddon, for one, knows the season’s stretch run will be full of trying moments like Tuesday’s game.
“That’s what I’m anticipating,” he said after the game when talking about his team not running the table over the final dozen games. “I’m not anticipating us just to go out there and do Minnesota Fats. I just don’t see it.
“It’s just going to be back and forth. You just got to deal with it.”
The Rangers snapped a seven-game losing streak, won for only the second time in 12 tries and moved back into a tie with the Rays for first in the wild-card standings with 12 games to play.
Hellickson was gone in the third inning after allowing four more runs on a two-run double by Kinsler and a two-run homer by Elvis Andrus.
Maddon used six relief pitchers to finish the game.
“In a perverse way we had the bullpen night,” Maddon said.
After pitching five scorless innings against the Angels in Anaheim during his first start after a brief exile and then holding the Red Sox to three runs (two scored after he was removed from the game) in five innings last week, Hellickson appeared to revert to the form that saw him go 0-4 with a 9.15 ERA in five August starts.
It was the second-shortest outing of the year for Hellickson behind his two-inning effort in Kansas City, his last start before being optioned to Class A Charlotte in an effort to give him some rest.
“It’s really frustrating to go out there and to do that after the big win (Monday) night, after the way Cobb threw,” Hellickson said. “You want to go out and do the same thing. It’s very frustrating. But at the same time you got to move on. We have (Chris Archer) going (tonight), which will give us a good chance to win.”
Maddon said Hellickson’s fastball wasn’t as lively as it had been in his two previous starts. The home runs to Kinsler and Andrus were bad signs since neither hitter had much previous success against Hellickson.
Hellickson’s had three runs this season - bad, good and bad. Maddon figured his ability to command his fastball during his first two starts back was a sign he was out of the woods.
“It’s been a back-and-forth battle with him,” Maddon said. “Even some of the games he’s won there were a lot of runs scored. It’s just been awkward with him. He’s just not been as steady as he has been in the past.
“Why? I don’t really know. Rest-wise, we gave him the rest, and he pitched well after that.”
Maddon did say he believes Hellickson will make his three remaining starts this season, though the fact rookie right-hander Jake Odorizzi will rejoin the team Friday might may be of interest. It was Odorizzi who picked up Hellickson’s start on Aug. 29 when Hellickson was taken off the roster.
The Rangers, meanwhile, started Alexi Ogando, who was on the disabled twice this season with arm troubles. Ogando had made four relief appearances since returning Sept. 3.
Texas manager Ron Washington hoped to get as many innings out of Ogando as possible before going to his bullpen, and Ogando gave him five innings, allowing one run and two hits.
The run was on a home run by Jose Lobaton in the third and came after Ogando retired the first seven batters he faced.
Yunel Escobar followed Lobaton with a walk and Ben Zobrist singled. Ogando, who hadn’t pitched more than two innings in a game since Aug. 13, appeared to be wilting.
But Wil Myers swung at the first pitch he saw and flied out to right field, and James Loney ended the threat with a grounder to shortstop.
“That was our opportunity to really do something,” Maddon said. “Loby gets the energy back a little bit. Escobar, etc., and we’re in a pretty good little moment there. ... To have done something there could have put a different hue on the game.”
The Rays had three baserunners the rest of the way.
“We just could not mount any kind of attack,” Maddon said.