ST. PETERSBURG — Jeremy Hellickson didn't get much for his 25th birthday Sunday.
His girlfriend had brought him a watch when she came down during the spring. His grandmother got him cologne. An aunt sent a few shirts. But his parents only called and sent cards, and his Rays teammates failed to provide even a cake.
"My family kind of forgets about me," he said. "I'm not lying when I tell you there wasn't much."
Hellickson instead treated himself, delivering a masterful performance to celebrate the occasion with a 3-0 series-sweeping win over the Yankees.
"That's a pretty good birthday present right there," he said.
The Rays came out of the weekend 3-0 for the second time in franchise history, with the Yankees and, for what it's worth, the Red Sox both 0-3.
"We played well for the first three games," manager Joe Maddon said. "I'm really pleased with that."
The starters are 2-0 with a 3.60 ERA, despite James Shields' rough outing. The relievers not named Josh Lueke are 1-0, 1.58 with two saves, Fernando Rodney thus far stepping in capably for injured Kyle Farnsworth. The offense is hitting .302 and averaging six runs a game, with contributions from throughout the lineup.
"It's been a good start for us, obviously," first baseman Carlos Peña said.
Sunday, before a Tropicana Field crowd of 30,413, they took a first-inning lead for the third straight game, with Evan Longoria (hitting a toasty .600) doubling and Matt Joyce (hitting .333) tripling past Raul Ibanez, and built from there. Peña (hitting .500, with seven RBIs) homered in the third (and just missed another in the fifth when the umps ruled fan interference) and Jeff Keppinger (hitting .444) went deep in the sixth.
"We've been working good at-bats against a really good pitching staff," Maddon said.
The three runs was more than enough for Hellickson, who was his usual cool, calm and collected self on the mound, showing only glimpses of emotion, such as when he struck out Nick Swisher to end the sixth, and earlier when centerfielder Desmond Jennings ran down a long drive.
And even more so in the dugout.
"He's just ice cold," Peña said. "I'm looking at him on the bench and I'm like, 'You alive buddy? You okay there?' "
Oh, he was more than okay, allowing the Yankees only three hits, though walking four, and getting out of what little trouble he got into. He mixed his pitches, including liberal use of his new cutter, attacked the strike zone more frequently with his fastball, got his usual amount of weak contact (15 infield outs) and worked well with catcher Jose Molina.
He looked much like he did last season when he won 13 games, with a 2.95 ERA, and the American League rookie of the year award, and nothing like the pitcher who struggled through spring training with an 0-2, 9.00 mark, allowing 33 hits in 20 innings.
"I felt really good out there," Hellickson said.
"That was unbelievable; that's the story right there," Peña said. "There's nothing you could say that would describe that type of performance. That was very impressive."
The only thing that would have made it better was a 27th out. Maddon gave him the chance for a complete game, beginning the ninth with 103 pitches, and it looked good when he got Alex Rodriguez to fly out and Mark Teixeira to ground out, but a six-pitch walk of Swisher (after being ahead 1-and-2) ended his day at 118 pitches. (Still, the 82/3 shutout innings were the most by any Rays pitcher against the Yankees.)
"You always want to finish what you start," Hellickson said. "I'm probably more disappointed about that than as happy as I am about the outing."
All that was left was to celebrate the birthday, with his grandparents who had come from their native Iowa. A couple of teammates said they'd still try to get him a cake. Hellickson wondered if some relatives would come to Detroit for the series that starts Tuesday bearing gifts.
Maddon said he earned the right to do whatever he wanted:
"It's Helly day."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]