Carroll County Times

Bullpen fails as Rays rout O's

BALTIMORE - When asked prior to Sunday's game about how dominant his corps of relief pitchers has been over the last few weeks, Buck Showalter grimaced slightly and said, "And now that you've jinxed it ..." before answering the question.

The Orioles manager was only half-joking, until the sixth inning came around. That's when Tampa Bay tormented Baltimore's bullpen and turned a one-run game into a laugher. The Rays reached double digits in extra-base hits and runs in beating the Orioles 12-7 in front of 32,665 at Camden Yards.

The Orioles (42-39) lost the four-game series and reached the halfway point of the season on the bad end of a blowout. They allowed season highs in runs and hits (18), and coupled a poor start from Miguel Gonzalez with an abnormal relief effort.

Baltimore's bullpen had posted a 0.30 ERA over its previous eight games, allowing one earned run in 29 2-3 innings with 18 strikeouts and only four walks. That changed Sunday once Gonzalez couldn't get out of the fifth inning.

"That was a tough one to swallow," said Gonzalez, who gave up three runs, eight hits, and four walks in 4 2-3 innings. "They've been doing a good job, and I just feel like I [let] them down."

Things unraveled in the sixth, when Tampa Bay (35-49) scored seven runs on seven hits behind 11 batters and took the lead for good. Evan Meek (0-3) gave up four runs and three hits in an inning, and Brian Matusz allowed five runs and seven hits in 2 1-3 innings.

Showalter said the problem was leaving too many pitches up in the zone. And the Rays feasted on them - they pounded out 11 extra-base hits, the most against the Orioles since Sept. 15, 2006. That included five home runs, two from Matt Joyce. Tampa's left fielder went 5 for 6 with four RBIs (and his fourth and fifth homers of the season) to pace the Rays' offense and fluster the Orioles' arms.

"Just a lot of elevated pitches," Showalter said of Gonzalez. "There's such a fine line. That's a big difference pitching and hitting. He's trying to go down away and goes middle up and you're missing height and location as far as in or out. He wasn't the only one. That's for sure."

Tampa Bay added two runs in the seventh to go ahead 12-4, and that's when Showalter pulled most of his regulars. Ryan Flaherty smacked a three-run homer in the ninth to make it closer, but it wasn't enough.

Meek's ERA rose to 7.47 after Sunday's outing, while Matusz's climbed to 5.16.

"Balls up in the zone," said Orioles catcher Nick Hundley. "But that's an aberration for our bullpen, they've been so solid since I've been over here. They've thrown the ball great."

Manny Machado went the opposite way and hit a two-run homer - his seventh home run of the season - to right field in the fourth inning that gave the Orioles a 3-2 lead. Tampa Bay tied the game at 3-3 in the fifth when Ben Zobrist went deep for a solo shot, but Baltimore went ahead in its half.

Nick Markakis singled to open the inning, stole second on Rays starter Alex Cobb (3-6) when Steve Pearce struck out, and came home on a passed ball two batters later.

Meek - who struck out Logan Forsythe with the bases loaded to end the fifth inning - had a lead heading into the sixth. It didn't last long.

Kevin Kiermaier blasted his sixth homer of the season to right field with one out. Zobrist, James Loney, and Brandon Guyer added doubles. Forsythe hit a two-run homer off Matusz, his second of the season.

The damage was done, and the team with the worst record in baseball left town with three wins in four games against an Orioles club trying to stay near the top of the AL East.

"We could be playing the best team in the league, the worst team in the league, a high school team, whatever," Hundley said. "That doesn't matter. Your goal is to win series and win series in the division, so whether it's the first place team or the last place team, our goal is the same."