Rays 4, Orioles 3: Stop me if you've heard this one before

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

A night of missed opportunities against the Rays ends in disappointment for the Orioles and their fans.

After righting the ship a bit by taking two of three from the Rockies, the Orioles kicked off a big three-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays tonight.  With the Rays looking down at the Orioles in the wild-card race, and up at the Red Sox in the division, you might have expected a tight, well-played match.  And oh, how disappointed you would've been with a sprawling four-hour affair, a night full of hits but lacking in runs.  I'll try to keep this recap somewhat shorter than the game itself, but there are a lot of missed opportunities to cover.

The first inning was pretty quiet, but for those of you who don't believe in jinxes, after Mike Bordick spent an eternity telling us all how good Evan Longoria is against Chris Tillman, and how careful Tillman needed to be against him, Longoria blasted one into the center field seats to spot the Rays a 1-0 lead.  The Orioles went quietly in the bottom of the first, with Chris Davis drawing a walk, but Adam Jones -- stop me if you've heard this one before -- striking out on a ball in the dirt, low and away.

The Rays slapped away in the second, plating a run on a sequence of three singles by Yunel Escobar, Matt Joyce and Kelly Johnson and running Tillman's pitch count quickly up near 50 pitches.  Fortunately, Tillman was able to limit the damage by getting Desmond Jennings to fly out weakly with men on first and third and two outs.  The Orioles came right back in the second, though, with a one-out rally featuring singles from J.J. Hardy and Nick Markakis, followed by an RBI double by Danny Valencia.  Unfortunately, David Price collected himself and induced weak flyballs from Steve Pearce and Brian Roberts to end the threat.

The Orioles scraped out another run in the bottom of the third, but it could easily have been three.  After singles by Manny Machado and Jones, Matt Wieters drilled a ball to dead center that caromed between the top of the two pads at the absolute deepest part of center field, missing a home run by about six inches in any direction but down.  After settling for an RBI double to tie the game, the Orioles had runners at second and third with just one out, but Price managed to strike out Hardy and pop out Markakis to stifle the threat of more runs.

Meanwhile, after he had settled down in the third, Tillman -- stop me if you've heard this one before -- gave the lead right back, walking Escobar before serving up a two-run blast to right by Joyce.  The Orioles, meanwhile, squandered their own chance in the fourth, after Valencia and Pearce led off with back-to-back singles.  Roberts flied out, but at least moved Valencia over to third.  Machado struck out swinging, leaving the inning in the hands of Chris Davis.  Alas, after working a 2-0 count, then a full count a few pitches later, Davis also struck out on an inside heater.

Tillman continued his Jekkyl/Hyde act in the fifth, working through the inning quickly and uneventfully, but the Orioles offense continued its Hyde/Hyde act, threatening early against Price and blowing it again.  Wieters and Hardy singled with one out, with Wieters alertly taking third on Hardy's single and allowing Hardy to advance to second on the throw.  But Markakis flied out -- too weakly to score Wieters.  Valencia walked to load the bases with two outs for Steve Pearce, who -- stop me if you've heard this one before -- grounded to short to end the threat.

Tillman actually stayed consistent through the sixth, and the Orioles' constant ability to put on baserunners without plating them chased Price after just five innings, even though he only allowed two earned runs.  That's right, ten hits, two walks, and two runs to show for it.  However, the Orioles' offense would fare no better against the soft middle of the Rays bullpen, with Machado working a one-out walk against Jamey Wright before Davis and Adam Jones both grounded out to the right side.

Meanwhile -- stop me if you've heard this one before -- Tillman's pitch count drove him out of the game after six innings, leaving Troy Patton to work in the top of the seventh.  Patton got outs from the two lefties he faced (Joyce and Johnson), sandwiched around a double to the lone righty he faced, Jose Molina.  He was lifted in favor of Francisco Rodriguez, who walked Jennings, then uncorked a wild pitch to Ben Zobrist, advancing the runners to second and third, but he managed to strike Zobrist out to end the threat (apparently that can actually happen to both teams).

The Orioles were left to face the tough part of the Rays bullpen, with Joel Peralta coming in for the seventh inning.  Matt Wieters responded by planting a ball on the flag court, apparently upset with the park taking away his earlier shot, cutting the Orioles' deficit to one run.  Hardy and Markakis made quick outs (Markakis on a laser line drive that happened to go right to Myers, continuing his XBH drought), but apparently no one told Valencia that Peralta was right-handed, because he shot a single to center, and Pearce did the same to put runners at the corners with two outs, prompting Joe Maddon to go to Jake McGee to face Roberts.  I can't even break out another "stop me if you've heard this one before," because Roberts has had some big RBIs lately, but he grounded out to short to end yet another scoring opportunity.

K-Rod came back on to start the eighth, and things got dicey in a big hurry, with back-to-back-to-back singles loading the bases before an out was even recorded.  After a seemingly endless at-bat by Yunel Escobar, the Orioles lucked into a liner to Chris Davis, which he snapped to second for a double play that would turn bases loaded, no outs, into runners at the corners with two down.  Buck Showalter turned to Brian Matusz, who -- stop me if you've heard this one before -- stranded the baserunners with a key groundout.

The bottom of the eighth -- stop me if you've heard this one before -- involved a runner in scoring position with less than two outs who didn't score.  Chris Davis hit a one-out double (which actually went off the left fielder's glove), and was promptly stranded by back-to-back Ks from Jones and Wieters.  If you care to count such things, the first eight innings had a combined 23 hits, five walks and just seven runs.

The top of the ninth was drama-free, with a rare Machado error allowing Escobar to second base with two outs, but Tommy Hunter recorded the third out on his third groundball of the night.  That left the Orioles with one last chance to score a run (or more) off of Fernando Rodney.

Because this game was what this game was, Hardy led off the 9th with a single, and got replaced by pinch runner Alexi Casilla, who promptly got thrown out trying to steal second.  Markakis drew a walk, but Rodney got Valencia to strike out swinging about 20 feet in front of a breaking ball, and Nate McLouth grounded out to first to strand yet another baserunner.

Final damage for the Orioles: 15 hits, four walks, three runs.  Never has this team so badly deserved a seemingly close loss.  If you get nineteen baserunners in a nine-inning ballgame, and lose 4-3, there is no one to blame but yourselves, not even if your starter only had a so-so day.  It's even worse for a team that seemed to be on the upswing after some tough times, and was coming back home to play a foe who factors into both their division and wild-card fates.  The Orioles are backing themselves further into a corner with losses like this one.

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