ST. PETERSBURG — Closer Grant Balfour blew his second save of the season Thursday when he allowed a ninth-inning run in the Rays’ 5-2 victory in 11 innings against the A’s.
He could handle that, he said.
It was the booing from what was left of the crowd of 11,257 at Tropicana Field that bothered Balfour.
“The fans can boo me and all that (stuff), but that’s fine,” Balfour said. “It’s not going to help me out, it’s not going to help the team do anything out there when you do that (stuff). The feeling is, the team’s behind you and everybody’s behind you, the crowd, the whole nine yards, things are going to go right. But when you start pulling that (stuff), it’s not a good vibe. The team’s pulling for the team, so the fans got to be pulling for the team. Everybody’s got to be pulling for the team. You can’t be back and forth like that. That (stuff) doesn’t work. So I’ll just walk away positive from it. It’s a good win. A much-needed win.”
The Rays were up 1-0 when Balfour allowed a leadoff single to John Jaso. Pinch-runner Craig Gentry stole second, so Balfour pitched around Josh Donaldson. He struck out Brandon Moss, but Yoenis Cespedes doubled to left field, scoring Gentry and making it 1-1.
“(Stuff) happens. I’m not going to sit here and cry about it,” he said. “I would have liked to have closed it out. It would have been easier to get a 1-2-3 (inning).”
Balfour has walked 18 batters in 18 1⁄3 innings. Those are the most walks by an AL reliever.
Manager Joe Maddon, who yanked Balfour on May 15 in Anaheim after he allowed two walks and a single to start the ninth, said Balfour’s troubles Thursday were similar to his troubles that night against the Angels.
“Some of it is pitch selection, I believe, and then location,” Maddon said. “He’s just been off a little bit with that kind of stuff.”
Zo could return sooner
2B Ben Zobrist (dislocated left thumb) took ground balls before Thursday’s game and said he will be ready to rejoin the team May 30 in Boston, the day he is scheduled to come off the disabled list.
“I was able to do more than I thought I would,” he said.
Zobrist originally thought he would need three weeks for the injury to properly heal, but he said things are progressing quicker than he expected.
“Right now, best-case scenario is when the DL is done, I’ll be ready to go full-on,” he said. “That’s what they’re saying. They’re pretty optimistic that can happen at this point. I’d be surprised if I’m not ready by then.”
Figueroa’s first hit
Cole Figueroa’s first big-league hit was a hit-and-run single in the seventh inning that moved Yunel Escobar from first to third and helped set up the Rays’ first run of the game.
“I was going up there thinking (hit-and-run), try to get us off and moving because we hadn’t really been doing much all day against Sonny (Gray),” he said. “I got the (hit-and-run) sign and was actually pretty happy about it because it’s kind of mindless when I get in situational stuff.”
Helly faces hitters
RHP Jeremy Hellickson (right elbow surgery) threw to hitters Thursday for the first time since Game 4 of October’s ALDS.
“I haven’t went this long without facing a hitter my whole life. Honestly, I was nervous waking up this morning and getting out there facing hitters again,” Hellickson said. “It was pretty exciting and I’m happy with how it went.”
Hellickson said he threw about 35 pitches, five of them curveballs. He expects to throw another round of live BP on Sunday, then progress to simulated games. He said he is still targeting a late June return.
Sean Rodriguez homered for the first walk-off hit of his career and the Rays’ first walk-off win of the season. The Rays had a team-record 13 walk-off hits last season. ... Desmond Jennings ended a career-long 13-game streak without an RBI with a run-scoring single in the 11th. ... RHP Josh Lueke earned his first win as a Ray.