It was classic Jeremy Hellickson. The fastball was down. The change-up was down. The curveball was sharp. Mix those three together, which Hellickson did, and he was retiring one White Sox batter after another.
Problem was, the damage had already been done by the time Hellickson got it going.
Hellickson had trouble keeping his fastball down in the first inning and the White Sox took advantage, scoring all the runs they would need for a 5-2 victory against the Rays on a chilly night at U.S. Cellular Field.
“It was just a few pitches,” Hellickson said of his first-inning struggles. “But all of them got hit.”
The loss prevented the Rays from reaching .500 for the season and dropped them to 2-8 on the road.
Any chance of adding to the momentum gained from a 5-1 homestand at the start of this 10-game, three-city trip was squelched by White Sox left-hander Chris Sale, who allowed four hits in seven innings.
One of those hits was a first-inning single by Evan Longoria that scored Desmond Jennings for a quick 1-0 Rays lead.
“We came out nice. We got the run early,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “The walk (to Jennings to start the game) and eventually the two-out hit was a good thing. And they answered the bell rather quickly, did not give us a chance to get into the flow of the thing. Their pitcher is going to make a lot of teams look sluggish. He’s really good. It wasn’t one of our better games, but I think a lot had to do with (Sale).”
Hellickson, who earned his first win of the season with seven innings of three-hit ball against the A’s in his last start, allowed the first three batters he faced Thursday to score.
Alejandro De Aza and former Ray Jeff Keppinger opened the inning with back-to-back doubles. De Aza’s double sailed over the head of Jennings in center field.
Alex Rios walked. Keppinger came home on a single by Paul Konerko. Rios, who reached third on Konerko’s hit, scored on a sacrifice fly.
Hellickson settled down after that. The sac fly by Conor Gillaspie started a run in which Hellickson retired nine straight batters.
Hellickson said there wasn’t one pitch or one at-bat in the first inning when he flipped things in his favor.
“No, first pitch of the game was right there and I felt good with that, and then I left the one up that (De Aza) hit the double on,” Hellickson said. “I don’t know when I figured it out. The second inning felt good. I couldn’t shut them down after we put up a run. I put us in a hole early. I can’t do that.”
Jose Lobaton, who had two of the Rays’ five hits, hit his first home run of the season in the fourth to cut it to 3-2.
The Rays kept it a one-run game in the bottom of that inning when Kelly Johnson, playing left field, cut off Alexei Ramirez’s ball into the corner and fired it back toward the infield. Gillaspie, who was on first base after drawing a walk, tried to score.
Johnson’s throw sailed over the cutoff man, but Longoria caught it and fired it to Lobaton.
Lobaton had the plate blocked with his left leg and applied the tag.
The play loomed large until Gillaspie drew a leadoff walk in the sixth inning and Adam Dunn, batting .097 at the time, homered to right for the final runs of the game.
“The second to the fifth inning was I think as good as I’ve thrown,” Hellickson said. “Then I go out in the sixth and walk the leadoff guy and make a pretty stupid pitch to Dunn right there. I finally settled down again but it was too late by then.”
Hellickson has allowed 15 runs this season. Eight of those scored in the first innings of his five starts.
He is 0-5 in his past seven road starts despite a 3.24 ERA.