The Baltimore Sun
BALTIMORE – The steady stream of fans rapidly heading toward the exits of Camden Yards in the ninth inning of the Orioles’ 7-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night signaled that they had seen enough.
A one-run game quickly spiraled into a five-run deficit for the Orioles, who would make it closer on Matt Wieters’ two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth but still suffered another costly loss a team they’re chasing for a playoff spot.
With the loss, the Orioles – who have dropped six of their past eight games – fell to 5 1 / 2 games behind the second-place Rays in the American League East standings. Tampa Bay also holds the first of the AL’s two wild-card spots. For a team clinging to its playoff hopes, the Orioles have won just four of their past nine series and they’ve won just five of 14 games against the division-rival Rays this season.
“We just need some things to go our way,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “We need to make our own breaks.”
After 125 games, the Orioles (67-58) are just one game behind last year’s 93-win playoff team at this point of the season, but they will need to capitalize on upcoming games against teams ahead of them in the playoff race, namely the Boston Red Sox, Oakland Athletics and the Rays.
“It’s not the position we would prefer to find ourselves in after the first two games of the series, that’s for sure,” Orioles left fielder Nate McLouth said. “But there’s still plenty of baseball left for us to make up some ground. It’s not ideal at all, but we won’t let this game affect tomorrow’s game.”
The baserunners weren’t as plentiful and the scoring opportunities not as regular as Monday night, when the Orioles were 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position, but the Orioles still had a big inning basically gift-wrapped for them in the seventh – and they failed to capitalize.
Trailing 3-1 in the seventh, the Orioles chased right-hander Alex Cobb (8-2) from the game after loading the bases with no outs, but they scraped just one run across the plate against left-handed reliever Alex Torres.
Brian Roberts grounded the second pitch of his at-bat to third baseman Evan Longoria, who touched third and threw to second for a double play, one of three double plays the Orioles hit into. Wieters scored from third to make it a one-run game, but McLouth struck out looking on a full-count pitch to end the inning.
Cobb finished allowing just three hits over six-plus innings.
Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (8-6) failed to get through the sixth inning for the third time in his past five starts, allowing three runs and 12 baserunners – eight hits and four walks – over 5 2/3 innings before an announced 26,158 at Camden Yards.
The Rays (72-52) came through with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth on Matt Joyce’s two-run double off T.J. McFarland, giving Tampa Bay a 5-2 lead. Wil Myers’ two-run single against Jim Johnson gave the Rays a five-run cushion.
Wieters hit his third homer in four games and his fourth in his past seven games, a two-run shot off Rays reliever Wesley Wright in the ninth. It was Wieters’ 19th homer of the season and his 15th career homer against Tampa Bay, most of any player against the Rays since 2009 and the most Wieters has hit against any opponent.
Rays closer Fernando Rodney prevented further damage, retiring all three hitters he faced in the ninth, securing his 29th save of the season by striking out McLouth to end the game.
Gonzalez labored throughout the evening, especially during a 24-pitch second inning in which the Rays scored their first run. His four walks were costly – two of them scoring.
“That was a tough one,” Gonzalez said. “First inning was great and then I just had to battle the other innings. It’s tough to pitch against a team that is playing good. They got three infield hits and a couple broken-bat base hits. That’s a tough one to swallow.”
With the game tied at 1 in the third, Gonzalez issued a one-out walk to Desmond Jennings, then allowed a double down the right-field line to Ben Zobrist that scored the speedy Jennings from first. After Longoria’s single, which moved Zobrist to third, Joyce’s sacrifice fly to right gave the Rays a 3-1 lead.
The Orioles had tied the game in the second inning – benefitting from a two-out error on Longoria to score a run. Longoria, playing on the right side of the infield as part of a pull shift on Wieters, bobbled a grounder and couldn’t get the throw to first in time to get Wieters. A full-count walk to Hardy moved Wieters to second, and Flaherty’s single to right scored him to make is a 1-1 game.
Flaherty’s hit was the last one Cobb allowed until Hardy’s seventh-inning single.
Tuesday marked the first time the Orioles lost the first two games of a home series since July 8-9 against the Texas Rangers. But afterward Showalter – his team needing a win tonight to avoid a sweep – tried put a positive spin on the series.
“We look at it like we’ve won two out of four (including two wins against the Colorado Rockies over the weekend) and tomorrow’s the start of something good,” Showalter said. “You’d be surprised how quickly this season can slow down and things can turn quickly, so you’ve got to be prepared to take advantage of that, and we have the people to do it. At some point, some of the frustration they feel will start getting played out on the field toward the opposition.”
©2013 The Baltimore Sun
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