The Rays broke through on their West Coast road swing Tuesday night, and just in time -- the rest of the American League Wild Card contenders are storming the gates in the opening days of September.
With the Angels perking up and the teams having split the first two games of a four-game set, it will be Jeremy Hellickson returning to the Rays' rotation against fellow right-hander Jered Weaver of the Angels on Wednesday night at Angel Stadium.
Tampa Bay, currently holding the second Wild Card slot, took its first victory on the road trip in five tries, putting a stop to a five-game skid that cut into the Rays' advantage in the standings. Through Tuesday's win, they have four teams on their tail -- the Yankees (2 1/2), Orioles (3), Indians (3 1/2) and Royals (4 1/2) -- and remained 5 1/2 games behind Boston in the AL East.
On Wednesday, they'll put their mound hopes in the right hand of Hellickson, who is back after being optioned to the Minors for a week to get back on track. He didn't pitch in a Minor League game, resting for a day and then spending the rest of the week working out at Tropicana Field with teammate Jake Odorizzi.
Before being sent down, Hellickson couldn't get through the fifth inning in five of six starts. The break wasn't exactly what Hellickson had in mind, but he's ready to roll now that he's back.
"I'm just ready to get back out there," Hellickson said. "The last three or four days have felt like three or four months. So, I'm ready to get back out there. Try to get back into a nice little groove again."
Hellickson has a good track record against the Angels. He is 2-1 with a 2.29 ERA in four career appearances, including a win at Angel Stadium in July 2012 in which he pitched six shutout innings.
Weaver, meanwhile, allowed just one run in 14 innings in his two starts on the Angels' recent road trip. His last time out, he pitched six shutout innings at Milwaukee, allowing three hits and three walks while striking out three.
Weaver is 8-3 with a 2.79 ERA over his past 12 starts, and he knows the Angels' rotation has had its difficulties but can be key to the club getting some winning momentum down the stretch.
"It's been a rough patch, but we're throwing the ball well right now and getting out there and getting some wins. It's nice to see," he said.
Weaver is 4-2 with a 3.93 ERA in eight career starts against the Rays and hasn't beaten Tampa Bay at home since June 2008.
Rays: Rare error in the middle
Second baseman Ben Zobrist committed his second error in the past five games after not committing one since May 13, but the Rays' double-play combo remains in rarefied air when it comes to errors.
Through Tuesday, Zobrist (five) and shortstop Yunel Escobar (six) have combined for just 11 errors, best in the Majors. They won't set the Major League record, however -- that was nine by the '99 Mets (Edgardo Alfonzo-Rey Sanchez) and '10 Yankees (Robinson Cano-Derek Jeter).
• Wil Myers had two hits in his previous 31 at-bats, but he went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles Tuesday night.
Angels: Grinding it out
The Angels have entered September on one of their better rolls of the season, and veteran catcher Chris Iannetta says he knows the club will give nothing short of its best effort down to the end.
"We knew it. It's good that other people are recognizing that we still care. We're professionals and go about it the right way. Every night there's a game, we try to win," Iannetta said.
• J.B. Shuck, putting together another Rookie of the Year-caliber season for the Angels after Mike Trout's otherworldly debut a year ago, could give the club back-to-back rookie hits leaders. That would be a first since the 1981-82 Twins (Gary Ward, Kent Hrbek). He went 0-for-4 on Tuesday but is at 108 hits, nine ahead of Detroit's Jose Iglesias in the AL.
• The Angels lead the season series 3-2 with two games to play. The Rays won the 2012 series, 9-1.
• The Rays scored as many runs Tuesday as they had scored during their five-game losing streak.
• The Angels are nine games under .500 this late in the season for the first time since 1999, when they were 10 under as of Sept. 3.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.