Last season, Orioles manager Buck Showalter had the base of the right-field foul pole at Camden Yards painted black in order to help discern balls in play from home runs.
Most stadiums have a yellow line on the top of the wall that serves as a marker in cases where there could be doubt. Camden Yards doesn’t, and on most days here, you’ll never notice.
In the Orioles’ 3-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday afternoon, that anonymous nook of the ballpark was the point of focus in front of an announced 37,704 at Camden Yards.
The Orioles lost their season-high fifth straight game Sunday and ninth of their past 11 as they were swept in a three-game series for the first time since last June 18-20 against the Mets in New York.
"We've had some good things ... happen to us at times,” Showalter said. “That's part of playing a sport. There's some unique dips and turns to every season. It's frustrating for us, but you don't dwell on it.”
The team’s sixth straight loss at Camden Yards also marked the first time the Orioles have been swept at home since the second series of last season against the Yankees. Now, New York comes to town for three to close out the eight-game homestand.
“In this series, you can point fingers all you want,” center fielder Adam Jones said. “We got beat. It's a pretty good team, too. Sometimes it happens. We've got to go out and get after the Yankees. They're going to come off and get after us. We have to come after them.”
Coming into Sunday’s game, Orioles pitchers had allowed 30 total runs in their past three games, but they did their part in the series finale. Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman recorded his sixth straight quality start, just the second time in the past eight games that an Orioles starter has gone more than five innings.
But Tillman also allowed two homers, including a controversial solo homer by Rays right fielder Matt Joyce in the sixth inning that was reviewed and ruled a home run after a 10-minute delay.
Joyce hit a ball high and deep that hit off the wall and into the right-field corner for a double. Orioles manager Buck Showalter sprinted out of the dugout to argue with first-base umpire Dan Iassogna that the ball was foul.
“I wasn’t even looking where the ball landed,” Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis said. “I just knew that in that area if it hits off there, it’s a concrete wall, so I was just kind of trying to create an angle to the ball, and once the ball didn’t kick right back to me, I knew something was wrong. … They got the call right.”
Minutes later, Rays manager Joe Maddon came out of the visiting dugout. Crew chief Gerry Davis said the delay was because Maddon wanted a replay review of the call but Davis made it clear that the only rulings on a home run ball would be fair or foul, so he could lose a potential base runner in a one-run game.
The crew retreated to review the call and quickly returned with Davis twirling his finger in the air to indicate a home run. Davis said the replay review, which showed the ball deflected off the base of the right-field foul pole, was easy: “We know the black on the pole signifies a ball above the fence.”
After the game, Showalter said the umpiring crew got the call right. He said he believed Maddon engaged the umpires for an extended amount of time so he could get a cue from his dugout about what the replay showed.
“You've got to make the decision whether you want to roll the dice for the home run,” Showalter said. “When he got all the report back from the people, I'm sure he felt real confident about what was going to get called. I've got a guy who lets me know if I have a good argument, so I knew once they went inside it was going to be a home run.”
Showalter said he rushed out of the dugout immediately because some of his players believed the ball was foul.
“That's what some of our players felt strongly,” he said. “But they got it right, so it certainly didn't affect the way the game ended up.”
But the Orioles still stranded a pair of runners at third base in the first four innings against Rays left-hander Matt Moore, who held the O’s to five hits over seven innings. The 23-year-old Moore became the youngest left-hander to open the season 8-0 since Babe Ruth (22) in 1917.
It was the Orioles’ lowest offensive output since a 4-0 shutout loss in Anaheim on May 3.
Tillman (3-2) allowed just three runs on five hits over six innings, despite again battling a high pitch count. He struck out four and walked one.
“I was able to get ahead most of the time, my curveball put me in some tough spots,” Tillman said. “[In] situations, I was trying to throw a strike with it and missed, made some mistakes and they capitalized on them.”
Tillman also yielded a solo homer to former Oriole Luke Scott, who took a 1-1 pitch into the right-center field stands to open the fifth inning. T.J. McFarland threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Tillman and Pedro Strop stranded the bases loaded in the ninth.
Heading in different directions in the AL East standings, the Orioles and Rays — winners of nine of their past 11 — now have identical 23-20 records. The Orioles haven’t been as low as three games over .500 since April 24.
Last year’s playoff team had its share of rocky moments, but it averted long losing streaks — recording just one losing streak of more than three games. Now, this Orioles team faces one of those stretches.
“Every team is going to go through their losses, whether it’s five in a row, six, seven,” Markakis said. “It doesn’t make a difference. We know that we’re in a tough stretch right now. We’ve got to put it past us. Every team has gone through their troubles, and we’re in ours right now, and we’ve got to fight through it and move on. We’ve got a lot of baseball left.”