The Orioles had a chance to earn their first three-game sweep of the Rays at Camden Yards since 2007 on Sunday afternoon. But more importantly, they could have gone up three games on division rival Tampa Bay — a monumental accomplishment considering the Rays came to Baltimore on Friday tied with the Orioles atop the American League East standings.
The Orioles' Opening Day starter, right-hander Jake Arrieta, saw it as an opportunity to seize. But after his shortest start in nearly a year, the 26-year-old admitted he went to the mound Sunday trying to do too much.
Baltimore rallied from a six-run, fourth-inning deficit to bring the winning run to second base in the ninth inning, but a rocky start from Arrieta was too much to overcome in a 9-8 series-finale loss to the Rays in front of a boisterous announced Mother's Day crowd of 29,552 at Camden Yards.
With the Yankees coming to Camden Yards for a two-game series to complete the 10-game homestand, the Orioles still boast a 12-6 record against the AL East.
"This team never gives up," said Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, who had two hits, including his eighth homer of the year, and was the game's final out. "We had a chance in the ninth and just didn't come through. It would have been a nice game to win, but at the same time you know this team is going to keep playing hard and we're not out of any game. That's how we feel in this clubhouse."
Arrieta lasted just 3 2/3 innings, allowing a career-high 10 hits and a season-high seven runs with two walks and six strikeouts. It was Arrieta's shortest outing in nearly a year, since he lasted just 2 1/3 innings against Seattle on May 30, 2011. Since throwing a career-high eight shutout innings at Yankee Stadium 12 days ago, Arrieta has allowed 13 earned runs over 10 innings in two starts since.
"I've been putting a lot of pressure on myself to put up quality outings," said Arrieta (2-4). "I think I need to relax a little bit and trust myself, because I'm more than capable of making good pitches when I need to get guys out. It's just a matter of going out there and doing it and not trying to do too much.
"Certain times I try to muscle it up and try to blow the ball by a guy and end up leaving it up, rather than just being good mechanically and executing down in the zone. I just need to get back to that. Take a little pressure off myself and go out there and pitch."
Arrieta allowed 12 base runners in 3 2/3 innings against a Tampa Bay team that has struggled offensively. The Rays entered Sunday having scored more than six runs just twice in their past 21 games.
Rays No. 9 hitter Elliot Johnson and leadoff hitter Ben Zobrist combined for six hits and five RBIs in eight at-bats on the day, and they hit back-to-back homers in the eighth inning off reliever Troy Patton that ended up being the eventual winning runs.
"It's kind of frustrating," said Patton, who struck out a career-high six batters in three relief innings. "I obviously had probably the best stuff I've had all season today and just threw one bad pitch after getting behind Elliot Johnson. … Got it back and finished the inning but it's really frustrating because I had good stuff today."
Before Patton allowed the homer to Johnson, the Orioles bullpen had thrown 10 scoreless innings this series and retired 30 of 31 batters, with Will Rhymes' fifth-inning single being the Rays only hit.
Arrieta didn't fare as well early, struggling with his location and keeping the ball down in the zone. He wouldn't survive a three-run Rays fourth inning after Carlos Pena's two-out, two-run double made the score 7-1 and chased Arrieta from the game.
"I'd like if we could have held them there at 5-1," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "[I] felt like the ball would be carrying well out there in a day game, especially out there in left-center."
The Orioles (21-13) still orchestrated an admirable comeback. Back-to-back doubles by J.J. Hardy and Nick Markakis in the sixth made the game 7-2 and set the tone for Wieters' two-out, two-run homer off Rays starter James Shields that cut the lead to three.
Shields was one strike away from ending the inning before Wieters took a 3-2 fastball over the right-center-field fence for his eighth homer of the season.
Markakis made it a one-run game at 7-6 with a two-out double to the warning track in center field that went off the glove of B.J. Upton in the seventh. After Patton allowed the back-to-back homers in the eighth to make it 9-6, Nick Johnson hit his second homer in three games to cut the gap to two.
Another run came in with two outs in the ninth against Rays closer Fernando Rodney, when Adam Jones hit a two-out infield single to third with runners on first and second. Third baseman Sean Rodriguez's throw to first hit off Pena's glove and past him for an E3, allowing a run to score and making the score 9-8.
The Orioles then had the tying run (Markakis) at third and the winning run (Jones) at second, but Wieters hit a ball down to third that Rodriguez needed to backhand before throwing to first and getting a nice scoop from Pena to nab Wieters and end the game.
"We played a good ballgame," Markakis said. "[Shields] was good early. We scored some runs off him. Any time you score runs off him, that's good. He had a good fastball today. We made a run at the end there, and if Pena doesn't catch that ball there, we may possibly win that game there. You can't hang your heads. It's a good game all around."