ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- To a man, the Orioles said they would be able to get over Thursday's doubleheader sweep by the Texas Rangers, that it wouldn't linger into their next series. And for six innings last night against the Tampa Bay Rays, it didn't.
But their bullpen, which had been so good through the first eight games, suffered a meltdown reminiscent of so many that occurred last year, and now the Orioles have another excruciating defeat to digest. A three-run Orioles lead in the seventh inning was lost with one swing from Carlos Pena off Jamie Walker. And the game was lost in the eighth when reliever Dennis Sarfate stopped throwing strikes.
Pena's bases-loaded walk, the third straight free pass issued by Sarfate, brought in the tiebreaking run, and the Rays piled on from there to deal the Orioles their third straight loss, a 10-5 defeat before an announced 12,146 at Tropicana Field.
"I wouldn't say they beat me. I beat myself," said Sarfate, who walked four, hit a batter and surrendered a hit after entering last night having allowed one base runner in four outings. "That's a game we should have won. It's just one of those things. I wasn't going the whole year without having a bad outing. It's early on. We've got to live with it, and tomorrow's a new day."
Replays appeared to show that Pena, who already had two home runs and five RBIs, offered at Sarfate's pitch, but third base umpire Joe West ruled that he hadn't after an appeal. B.J. Upton followed with a two-run single off Greg Aquino, and Eric Hinske and Shawn Riggans added run-scoring hits, completing the Rays' five-run eighth.
The Orioles' bullpen, which entered the game with a 0.93 ERA, the best in the majors, allowed eight runs, seven hits and five walks in 1 2/3 innings, ruining a gritty outing by starter Jeremy Guthrie.
"We all blew up," Walker said. "I started the fire and it got a little ignited, but I blame myself for that one. I take full blame. If I make a good pitch location, I'm 1-2-3 and we're out. We're winning. We're partying."
Guthrie survived a rocky first two innings to pitch into the seventh in his Opening Day rematch with James Shields. Guthrie retired the right-handed-hitting Jason Bartlett for the first out of the seventh and then was removed in favor of Walker with three left-handers coming up for the Rays.
"I understood that's exactly what was going to happen," Guthrie said. " ... That's exactly where we wanted to be. Get that right-hander out and put Jamie in there against the three lefties."
Walker couldn't get any of them out, surrendering an infield single to Akinori Iwamura and then a bloop single to Carl Crawford for the 1,000th hit of his career. Pena, who hit a two-run homer in the first off Guthrie, launched Walker's 2-2 hanging curveball over the right-center-field wall to tie the score. And the bullpen imploded further from there.
"The bottom line is I made one bad pitch, and it cost us the game," said Walker, who had gotten Pena out all six previous times he faced him, four on strikeouts. "It changed the whole outlook, [and] it gave them guys the momentum. Guthrie pitched his [butt] off, and I tanked it. It's hard to swallow, but I'll be ready to face them tomorrow."
The Orioles' offense, which scored three in the first off Shields with the help of shortstop Bartlett's throwing error, was shut down after Ramon Hernandez's RBI single gave the team a 5-2 lead in the sixth inning. The Orioles had a big opportunity to extend their lead in the seventh, but Aubrey Huff popped out in the infield with the bases loaded.
"Really, you can come down to that there were two big matchups in the game, the matchup with Walker and Pena, and they won it, and the matchup with [Trever] Miller and Huff, and they won that one," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "They got the hit in that situation, and we didn't."