ST. PETERSBURG -- A much anticipated beanball battle never fully developed Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field. Instead, the Rays got even with the Tigers by taking a 3-1 win.
With the victory, the Rays claimed the weekend series, giving the team its first series win over Detroit since Aug. 9-11, 2010, at Comerica Park, and the first at Tropicana Field since July 26-29, 2010. The Rays moved to 43-39 on the season to remain six games behind the American League East-leading Red Sox, who defeated Toronto on Sunday.
Saturday night, Rays closer Fernando Rodney brushed back Tigers slugger and No. 3 hitter Miguel Cabrera, leading to speculation about what might happen during Sunday's game.
The suspense lasted five outs into the game when Tigers starter Rick Porcello drilled the Rays' No. 3 hitter Ben Zobrist with two outs in the first. Home-plate umpire Vic Carapazza quickly warned both benches about any further action.
And none took place. Winning a baseball game took precedent, and Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson was all about winning in June as he went on to nail down his fifth win of the month, regardless of the warnings issued that could have impacted his ability to throw inside.
"I think I threw inside today better than I have all year," Hellickson said. "So I just didn't hit them, but I still threw in."
Hellickson tied a franchise record with five wins in a calendar month, joining Matt Moore, who turned the trick in April, David Price (June, 2012) and Scott Kazmir (May, 2008). He allowed a career-high eight runs on June 13 against the Royals. Excluding that start, he went 5-0 with a 1.80 ERA in June. Including that start, he went 5-1 with a 3.94 ERA.
"I'm happy with where I'm at for the last month," Hellickson said. "It was a struggle the month before that. But I'm feeling pretty good right now.
"I really can't put a finger on it. I was just giving up a really big inning every time out. Right now I'm just making a big pitch when I need to. Getting a lot of help out there."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland noted that some of the credit had to be given to the Rays' pitching for Sunday's loss, but he added, "We're just not swinging the bats good in some of the big situations. It's probably a combination of a lot of things but nothing in particular."
Jose Lobaton's second-inning single to left scored James Loney to put the Rays up 1-0. Cabrera answered for Detroit in the fourth.
With everybody in the ballpark expecting Hellickson to plunk the Tigers slugger in retaliation for Zobrist, Cabrera connected on the first pitch for his 25th home run of the season.
Not only did Cabrera's blast tie the game, it landed with a splash in the Rays Touch Tank 424 feet from home plate.
Tampa Bay again took the lead in the fourth when it loaded the bases with one out against Porcello on three consecutive singles. Lobaton made it four straight with one to center to score Wil Myers. Yunel Escobar then drew a walk to force home another run to make it a 3-1 Rays advantage.
Hellickson logged six innings before giving way to Jake McGee with the bases loaded and no outs in the seventh. But with Detroit knocking on the door, McGee retired Bryan Holaday on a shallow fly to right. Austin Jackson grounded into a 5-2 force at the plate for the second out before Torii Hunter flew out to center field to end the threat.
McGee had never entered a game with the bases loaded and no outs prior to Sunday. The hard-throwing left-hander allowed that a little luck is needed to escape a bases-loaded, no-out situation without allowing a run to score.
"You definitely do," McGee said. "There could have been a broken-bat blooper over the second baseman and it could have tied the game. You have to have some luck … and if you have good location you're going to make guys mis-hit the ball."
Count Hellickson among the more thankful for McGee's work Sunday.
"Unbelievable," said Hellickson when asked about McGee's effort. "You know, you kind of get used to Jake doing that. But that's a situation where even if they get one there, it's a battle. But to get out of that was pretty amazing."
Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta and Rodney finished off the final two innings, with Rodney earning his 17th save of the season.
The Rays went 4-2 on the homestand and have now won seven of their last 11 after losing eight of 10 prior to that.
"I was really impressed with this homestand," manager Joe Maddon said. "What was it, 4-2 against Toronto and Detroit? Toronto coming off an 11-game winning streak and Detroit, one of the best teams in the big leagues. And coming out of that 4-2 and playing really with playoff intensity this whole homestand. Really pleased with the way our boys have reacted to the moment."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.