ANAHEIM, Calif. — Jeremy Hellickson did a good job Sunday keeping the Angels hitters uncomfortable and off-balance through his six innings. But his greatest bit of deception apparently took place toward the end of the first, when he walked to the grass behind the mound, put his hands on his knees and — as indiscreetly as one can in that situation — threw up.
"I tried to hide it," he said.
He'd throw up again several times throughout the afternoon, most noticeably in the dugout after the third and sixth innings. But as nauseated as Hellickson felt, as much as his stomach hurt, as light-headed as he was getting, he was pitching incredibly well, a prime reason the Rays beat the Angels 2-0, extending their scoreless streak to 23 innings and posting their first back-to-back road shutouts in 10 years.
"My stuff felt good, and my arm felt good," Hellickson said, after a postgame IV. "That's really all I needed to feel good."
As the Rays won their second series on the three-stop trip that takes them next to Oakland and improved to 53-49, they all were feeling pretty good.
The defense was crisp, the offense opportunistic against Angels import Zack Greinke and the bullpen again dominant, with Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney finishing what Hellickson started.
Rodney, who logged his 30th save, made it entertaining, allowing two two-strike singles with one out in the ninth, falling behind Albert Pujols 3-and-0 before getting him to ground a 3-and-1 changeup into a double play, then, after firing another of his imaginary arrows, announcing, "the Rally Monkey has passed away."
Manger Joe Maddon, while tempering his excitement, is enthused about their overall improved play, even as the offense produces minimally.
"That's how we win," Maddon said. "That's who we are. And when you do all of that, all of a sudden you get the momentum and guys feel a little bit better about themselves and here comes six, seven, eight runs."
Sunday, two were enough, and they had help in getting them.
The first came in the sixth, the sequence starting with an Elliot Johnson blooper to right-center that dropped between three Angels for a double and ended with a crisp RBI single by Matt Joyce. But the big play came in the middle as Johnson was caught off second when Greinke snagged Sam Fuld's bouncer but — smartly — stayed in the rundown long enough for Fuld to get to second. "Fantastic," Maddon said. Fuld went to third on Ben Zobrist's infield single and scored on Joyce's hit.
They scored again in the seventh when Carlos Peña — who Maddon singled out for his overall outstanding game — doubled, went to third when Ryan Roberts productively grounded to the right side ("Another big play," Maddon said) and scored on Greinke's second wild pitch.
"We're playing better baseball," Maddon said. "I know we won two games, I'm not going nuts about that, but we're playing better. Execution-wise, we talked about a couple opportunities. Defensively, catching the ball. We pitched like crazy. We're playing better. And I want to believe there's MOR-mentum to be gained from playing better."
The MOR-mentum is one of Maddon's catch phrases. But after Saturday's win, the momentum came from Hellickson who, as sick as he was, didn't allow a hit until the fourth and only two total, eschewing his cutter for a solid repertoire of fastball, curveball and changeup while throwing 86 pitches.
Hellickson said he woke up nauseated and felt progressively worse, not helped by pregame doses of medicine or in-game fluids, but he had no thought of giving up.
"I just had to do it," he said.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.