ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — As the calendar inches closer to October, and the number of games remaining dwindles, the back-against-the-wall Orioles took a risk Friday night, looking to one of their better minor league pitchers to help keep their recent momentum going.
It didn't work.
Rookie right-hander Tyler Wilson didn't make it out of a six-run fifth as the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Orioles, 8-6, Friday night to even this four-game series at one apiece.
The Orioles (72-75) have won seven of their past 10, but every loss makes their chances of returning to the postseason for the third time in four years more unlikely.
With 15 games remaining, the Orioles are falling further behind in the American League wild-card race, losing ground to the Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels on Friday.
"It's definitely frustrating," said Orioles left fielder Steve Pearce, who homered twice in the loss. "We've just got to do a better job, both sides of the ball. And we've got to keep fighting. I know we're a long shot but we're still not out of it."
The Orioles held a brief lead against a difficult foe in Rays lefty Drew Smyly. But it didn't last as Wilson and reliever Chaz Roe combined to allow five hits and two walks in the fifth. The Orioles have now given up eight runs or more in each of their past five defeats.
"I wish there was something we could pinpoint so we could keep those games close, especially with the call-ups we have, we can start to play matchups late in the game," catcher Caleb Joseph said. "I think for the most part it just comes down to keeping us in the game early on. And if we have a chance toward the end of the game, we like our chances."
Wilson, who was working on a week's rest since last pitching in the minors, allowed the game to get out of control in the fifth.
"Extremely frustrating," said Wilson, who was charged with six runs in 4 1/3 innings. "That's an opportunity to really build some momentum coming into the last homestretch of the season. I thought about it all last night and coming in today how important it is for a starting pitcher to take command of the game from pitch one."
With a fastball that sits around 90 mph, the 25-year-old Wilson relies on control, and he couldn't locate his pitches throughout the contest.
"He probably hit the spot maybe four or five times. That's not him," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He's capable of pitching up here, as you've seen, when he commands the baseball."
The rough performance negated the Orioles' three homers -- including Pearce's third career multihomer game. As a whole, though, the club had only five hits.
"We didn't do as much offensively as the runs looked like," Showalter said. "We'd like to take advantage of six runs."
Smyly, who has been excellent against the Orioles in his career, struck out the first four batters he faced. But with two outs in the second, he hit Pearce with a pitch and then walked Joseph before serving up a mammoth homer to Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy.
The three-run shot to left, which was estimated at 424 feet, was Hardy's eighth of the season and first since July 29. Heading into Friday, Hardy was hitting .192 with two homers in 43 games since the All-Star break and had just four hits in 35 at-bats (.114 average) in nine games since returning from the disabled list with a groin injury.
The Rays quickly closed the 3-0 gap in the bottom of the second on a two-run homer by ninth-place hitter Tim Beckham. It was Beckham's ninth homer of the season and the first allowed by Wilson in 26 1/3 major league innings.
Making his third big league start and first since beating the Oakland Athletics on Aug. 3, Wilson had an ERA of 2.19 in six big league games heading into Friday. But that ballooned to 3.72.
The Virginia product and 2014 Orioles minor league Pitcher of the Year retired Beckham to start the fifth, but then allowed a single and a double. He intentionally walked Evan Longoria to face cleanup hitter Grady Sizemore, who smashed a three-run double to deep center to give the Rays a 5-3 lead.
That was it for Wilson (2-2), who gave up as many runs Friday as he did in his first six outings combined.
"I was pretty amped up when I went out there and a combination of being excited and having that adrenaline going for not only a spot start but an opportunity to kind of build some momentum for the team led to what it led to," Wilson said.
Three of the hits against Wilson were by rookie Mikie Mahtook, who tied a Rays record with five hits in the game. It was the eighth time it has happened in Tampa Bay history, the last was also against the Orioles on June 29, 2014, in Baltimore when Matt Joyce did it.
Roe replaced Wilson in the fifth and gave up a walk and a two-run double to James Loney. A sixth run in the inning scored on a bloop to shallow right-center that fell in between Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop.
Trailing 8-3, the Orioles made it a little more interesting in the sixth on a two-run homer by Pearce that chased Smyly (3-2). Pearce also homered in the ninth against Tampa Bay closer Brad Boxberger (35th save).
Friday's performance by Smyly continued a strange trend for the lefty since he returned from a season-long shoulder injury on Aug. 16. In his seven starts since coming back, including Friday, Smyly has alternated between scoreless performances and rough outings. He has given up 17 earned runs in four starts and none in the other three.
On Friday, he was charged with five runs on four hits and three walks. Smyly had allowed just three earned runs in 34 previous innings against the Orioles, though he did improve to 4-0 in seven games (five starts) against them.
The Orioles and Rays (71-76) are just one game apart for third place in the AL East; the Orioles are 9-8 against Tampa Bay this year.
Staying in third place might be a more realistic goal than a postseason push, but the Orioles aren't conceding that the playoffs are out of their grasp yet.
"There's no panic on this team. We understand the position, but we still believe we can do it," Joseph said. "Until the very last day of the season and they say you can't play anymore, we're going to keep fighting until that day."