The Rays (69-44) won their second straight after losing five in a row and took their first series at Comerica Park since 2004. And they pulled to within a half-game of the Yankees, who lost to the Rangers 4-3 in 10 innings.
Given that Hellickson (2-0) was pitching because Wade Davis went on the disabled list a day earlier, the victory was a major lift.
The 23-year-old became the first Rays pitcher to win his first two major league starts since Joe Kennedy in 2001. Needing only 86 pitches, he retired 18 consecutive batters after allowing a lead-off single to Austin Jackson, and 19 of 22 batters overall.
‘He did it with his command; it’s as simple as that,” Rays catcher John Jaso said. “His third pitch was a curveball, and he was dropping that in there for strikes whenever he wanted – and he was getting swings on it in the dirt.
“That was a huge thing to be getting that kind of advantage with your third pitch.”
A double play allowed Hellickson to face the minimum through six. His only difficulty came with one out in the seventh, when Johnny Damon singled through the right side, and Brennan Boesch followed with a single to bring up .341-hitting Miguel Cabrera.
Hellickson had gotten Cabrera to pop out to third in the second, and he struck him out on a 90 mph fastball in the fifth. In the seventh, Cabrera swung at a first-pitch fastball and grounded weakly to shortstop, allowing the Rays to turn a double play.
‘The guy knows how to pitch,” Damon said. “He’s fearless. His fastball topped out at 92 (mph), but his other pitches are plusses.”
Said Hellickson, “We made a lot of good plays tonight, and I went out there and threw strikes.”