Johnson was a more humane 3-for-8 versus Tillman before Monday, but his single gave him 23 RBIs (in 37 games) against the Orioles – his most versus any AL team.

Tillman was uncharacteristically inefficient, throwing 51 pitches in his first two innings before needing just 11 pitches to get through a perfect third.

But in the fourth, after the Orioles tied the score at 2-2, Tillman handed back the lead. Matt Joyce hit a fastball onto the flag court for a two-run shot, his 16th homer of the season. It was just the third time in his last 14 starts that Tillman had allowed more than one homer.

“It was OK. They got to me early,” Tillman said. “They saw a lot of pitches early on. I think I struggled with my offspeed stuff early. Was able to find it later, but they jumped on the board early and they kind of never looked back.”

The Rays threatened to break things open in the eighth, loading the bases with no outs against reliever Francisco Rodriguez. But first baseman Chris Davis saved the inning by snagging a sharp liner and throwing to second for a double play. Lefty Brian Matusz then came in and got Jason Bourgeois to ground out.

The Orioles continued to make it interesting, putting a runner on second with one out in the eighth before failing to score.  Hardy led off the ninth with the club’s 15th hit, but pinch-runner Alexi Casilla was thrown out trying to steal.

Rays closer Fernando Rodney walked Markakis with one out, but Rodney struck out Valencia and got Nate McLouth to ground out to pick up his 28th save of the season.

The Orioles have now dropped eight of 13 to the Rays this year, including seven of their last 10 matchups since winning two of three in Tampa to open the season.

And this one seemingly was always in their grasp, but they just couldn’t produce the key hit.

“We’ve put ourselves in good opportunities. I know you want to look at it in a negative way, but I always look at in the positive,” Jones said. “We had men on base and we created the opportunity. We were just unable to get that big hit. But we were able to create the opportunity. Just imagine if we he had none and left nobody on base. Then we’d really be getting cussed out.”

 

dan.connolly@baltsun.com