Published: Aug 25, 2012 5:25 PM EDT
Updated: Aug 26, 2012 6:31 AM EDT

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) - The first leg of the Oakland Athletics' seven-game road trip went just fine.

Brandon McCarthy pitched seven solid innings and Oakland beat the Tampa Bay Rays 4-2 on Saturday.

Chris Carter and Seth Smith homered for the Athletics, who took two of three from Tampa Bay and moved within a half-game of the AL wild card-leading Rays. Oakland has won eight of 10 to go a season-high 12 games over .500.

"I think we just keep proving that we're not a fluke," McCarthy said.

The Athletics lost 5-0 in the series opener on Thursday, then rebounded for a 5-4 win on Friday. They open a four-game series at Cleveland on Monday night.

"This isn't the easiest place to play, and it ended up being a real good series for us," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said.

McCarthy (7-5) allowed two runs and four hits while improving to 9-0, including three wins this season, against AL East teams over 14 starts since 2009. The right-hander was coming off a rough start last Monday when he gave up six runs and 10 hits over 3 1-3 innings in a loss to Minnesota.

"I thought it was quite the recovery for him," Melvin said.

After Sean Doolittle struck out two during a perfect eighth, Grant Balfour got the final three outs for his 14th save.

"It's obviously a big series for us momentum-wise," Athletics right fielder Josh Reddick said.

The Rays dropped to 16-7 in August.

"I give Oakland a lot of credit," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "You can't take anything away from what they're doing. They're playing good baseball. They're playing with a lot of energy so I give them credit. But we have to be better."

Carter hit a two-run shot off Jeremy Hellickson (8-9), helping Oakland take a 3-0 lead in the first. Coco Crisp scored the first run of the game from third when catcher Jose Lobaton made an errant throw to second on Stephen Drew's stolen base.

"I could have got out of it ... it's pretty frustrating," Hellickson said.

Smith put the Athletics up 4-1 with his 12th homer in the third.

The Rays loaded the bases with no outs during the second, but only managed one run on Lobaton's sacrifice fly. They also got a solo homer from Desmond Jennings in the fifth.

Hellickson yielded six hits, struck out five and walked none in five innings.

Tampa Bay reliever J.P. Howell extended his team-record shutout streak to 26 2-3 consecutive innings after pitching a scoreless seventh.

Both teams will have a rare Sunday off because Tropicana Field is one of the venues being used for the Republican National Convention.

According to the Rays, Oakland and Seattle did not play the first Sunday this season (April 8) due in part to opening the regular season in Japan. Before that, the last time there wasn't a game scheduled on a Sunday was Sept. 10, 1995, when San Diego and St. Louis were off because of a scheduling conflict with the NFL's St. Louis Rams at Busch Stadium.

NOTES: Reddick, who began the day mired in 14-for-94 slide, was dropped from third to sixth in the lineup. "Anytime a guy goes through some struggles, you want to change it up a little bit," Melvin said. "We expect him back in the three-spot before long." Reddick went 3 for 4, including a double. ... Hellickson threw 41 pitches in the first. ... Carter has hit eight of 11 homers this season on the road. ... The Rays allowed four or more runs in consecutive games for the first time since July 7-8 against Cleveland.