BALTIMORE — For all the talk about the Rays' tired faces and quiet bats, Jeremy Hellickson felt Friday's 7-0 loss to the Orioles came down to "one really bad pitch."
The rookie right-hander and reigning American League pitcher of the month had been one of the league's hottest hurlers, winning six of his past seven starts coming in. Hellickson wasn't as sharp Friday but battled through a 52/3-inning outing that could have looked much different had he not hung a first-pitch curveball to Nick Markakis in the second inning, which turned into a game-changing two-out grand slam.
"It was really the only pitch I was upset with," Hellickson said. "And it was the biggest pitch of the game."
Manager Joe Maddon could see in his players' faces they were dragging a little bit, one day after an overnight, cross-country flight from Anaheim, their "sleep deprivation trip."
The Rays (33-30) fell four games behind the first-place Red Sox in the AL East and dropped to 4-4 on their 11-game, four-city trek.
They had to sit through a rain delay of 1 hour, 8 minutes on a sweltering 90-degree night and were no-hit by Orioles starter Jake Arrieta through five innings.
But the game's tipping point came in the second with Hellickson nearly getting out of a jam before walking hot-hitting J.J. Hardy to load the bases. Maddon was fine with the walk to Hardy, who led off the first with a homer, and pitching coach Jim Hickey told Hellickson as much on the subsequent visit to the mound.
"He said, 'Make a good pitch here,' " Hellickson said. "Which obviously, I didn't. That was about it."
Maddon said he liked the way Hellickson fought through it, throwing 32/3 scoreless innings, believing it was a "definite learning moment."
"One pitch away from having one run in seven innings pitched," catcher John Jaso said.
It wouldn't have mattered much with Arrieta on the mound as he allowed just two walks through five innings. It wasn't until Sam Fuld led off the sixth with an opposite-field double that the Rays got their first of three hits.
"You pound the strike zone and good things happen," Jaso said. "I think it was kind of his day."
Justin Ruggiano, who was playing for Matt Joyce (post-injection soreness in his left shoulder), followed by reaching on an infield single. But after Reid Brignac popped out, Johnny Damon hit into an inning-ending double play, second baseman Robert Andino making a spectacular play to his right by snagging the grounder off Arrieta's glove to set it up.
"That was the big moment where we had a chance to flip it," Maddon said. "And it went away because they made a good play."
The Orioles added two runs in the eighth off Andy Sonnanstine thanks to a two-out, two-run double by Markakis (who had a career-high six RBIs). Tampa Bay loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth with two walks and Evan Longoria (who returned after missing three starts with strep throat) reaching on an error. But pinch-hitter Sean Rodriguez struck out looking to thwart the threat, a fitting end to a frustrating night.
Said Jaso: "It was one of those days."