OAKLAND, Calif. -- Cliff Pennington sure has a penchant lately for coming up big at the end of games.
Kevin Kouzmanoff scored the go-ahead run on second baseman Ben Zobrist's fielding error that allowed Pennington to reach with two outs in the eighth inning, and the Oakland Athletics beat the Tampa Bay Rays 5-4 Friday night for their second straight one-run victory in the series.
Out of the box, Pennington knew he'd have to sprint like mad to safely reach first. He made it without a moment to spare.
These are exactly the kinds of hustle plays that the A's depend on to win. They don't have a steady home run hitter and have to do the little things. Pinch-hitter Mark Ellis drew a walk after a nine-pitch at-bat to bring up Pennington.
"I think it's just playing the game hard, and that's what we're trying to do," said Pennington, the No. 9 hitter. "If you hit a ball at somebody you've got to get down the line."
Rajai Davis had a tying sacrifice fly in the eighth, then Pennington hit a grounder to second and wound up part of the decisive play for the third straight game. He hit a game-ending single to beat Toronto 5-4 on Wednesday and a go-ahead, two-run double in Thursday's 4-3 victory over the Rays.
"The guys battle hard all the time," Oakland manager Bob Geren said.
Tampa Bay missed a chance to move into a first-place tie with the Yankees in the AL East after New York was shut out at home 6-0 by Seattle. The Rays lost a late lead for the second night in a row.
"He makes that play 101 times out of 100. It was just really an unfortunate play," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Zobrist.
Henry Rodriguez (1-0) pitched a 1-2-3 eighth for his first major league win. Joaquin Benoit (0-2) allowed two runs, one earned, and took the loss. He had given up only six runs all year.
Jack Cust hit a solo homer for Oakland to tie it at 3 in the sixth before Zobrist's go-ahead solo shot in the seventh. But the Rays' bullpen couldn't hold a one-run lead that would have given rookie Jeremy Hellickson a win in his fourth straight start to begin his career.
Hellickson was optioned to Class-A Port Charlotte after the game. He will work out of the bullpen while in the minors before rejoining the Rays.
"Outstanding. You saw tonight the grit, the pitchability, the composure beyond his experience," Maddon said.
Craig Breslow, pitching for the first time since taking a line drive off his forearm Tuesday, worked the ninth for his third career save and second this year.
Matt Joyce hit a two-run single and John Jaso added a sacrifice fly for the Rays, who lost their second straight at the start of a seven-game West Coast trip following a five-game winning streak.
Zobrist wishes he could have the grounder back.
"A pretty little two-hopper. It wasn't that difficult of a play. I just didn't get it clean," he said. "I've been playing good defense this year. I just picked a bad time to make an error there. It's interesting how quickly you can be humbled."
Daric Barton hit a two-run single in the third, when Oakland became the first team to produce more than two hits in an inning against Hellickson.
Hellickson was trying to become the first pitcher to win four straight starts to begin his career since Cleveland's Scott Lewis in September 2008. The 23-year-old right-hander got a few boosts from the defense, too.
Center fielder B.J. Upton stole a hit from Davis in the fourth with a sprint to the gap in right-center and then a stretched-out diving catch. And Upton made a great throw to first to nearly double up Kouzmanoff.
Pennington and Coco Crisp pulled off a double steal in the third, giving them each 20 stolen bases this year.
A's starter Vin Mazzaro saw his winless stretch extend to five starts dating to a victory July 24 against the Chicago White Sox. He allowed three hits and struck out five over 6 1/3 inning but saw his pitch count climb in a hurry with four walks.
Rays starters Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis, each on the disabled list with a strained shoulder, threw simulated games. Maddon was pleased with their progress and both could be activated in the coming days. "I don't anticipate any setbacks," the manager said. ... Tampa Bay is 3-16 on Fridays this year. ... Rays reliever Chad Qualls was away from the team and in Southern California for a second straight day following a death in his family. He is expected to return for Saturday night's game. ... Injured Oakland closer and reigning AL Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey, working his way back from a right rib cage strain, allowed three hits and two runs in two-thirds of an inning for Triple-A Sacramento. He threw 18 pitches and faced five batters, struck out one and didn't issue a walk.