ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When the Orioles left Baltimore for their final series of the regular season, manager Buck Showalter said that one of his team's main goals was to make sure it hadn't played its final game at Camden Yards of 2012.
And the one thing the Orioles could control entering their regular-season finale against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on Wednesday night was ensuring a home playoff game with a win.
But at the end of a season in which they overcame obstacles and resuscitated baseball in Baltimore, the Orioles' bats fell silent against the best pitching staff in the game.
The Orioles managed just three hits — and just one through the first eight innings — in a 4-1 loss to the Rays in front of an announced crowd of 17,909.
The Orioles — who finish 93-69 after going 69-93 last year — end the season in second place in the American League East. As the second wild-card team, they'll travel to Arlington to face the Texas Rangers in a one-game AL wild-card playoff Friday at 8:37 p.m.
The Rangers (93-69) were swept by the Oakland A's in their final series to lose the AL West lead and fall into the top wild-card spot. Texas earns the right to host the wild-card game by virtue of its 5-2 record against the O's this season. Now, the Orioles must beat the Rangers to bring the playoffs back to Baltimore for an American League Division Series matchup against the New York Yankees that would start Sunday at Camden Yards.
"We still have that opportunity," Showalter said. "We have that opportunity, OK? It's like the guy on that first tee that wants a bunch of strokes in handicap. I tell them. They never ask for strokes from me. Play better. If we play well Friday night, enough to win a game, it's in our hands. It's not someone else controlling it.
"I'm looking at half full," Showalter added. "We've got an opportunity, and it's there for us in nine innings."
It's not the scenario the Orioles would have wanted, not after finishing the regular season with 11 wins in their last 16 games and nearly chasing down the Yankees, who led the AL East by 10 games in July.
"We would like to be in a little better position, but we'll take another nine innings to hopefully get back in Camden in front of the fans," Orioles right fielder Chris Davis said. "Obviously, the timing of the year is different, but we've had our share of obstacles all year. We're going to pick our heads up and go to Texas to try to win one game."
In dropping their final regular season series, the Orioles scored just five runs in the three games against a Rays staff that led the majors in ERA (3.19) and opponent batting average (.228). Tuesday and Wednesday marked the first time the Orioles were held to three hits or less in consecutive games since June of last year.
"When you look at it, man, the Rays have the best pitching in the AL," said Adam Jones, who had one of the Orioles' three hits and drove in the team's only run on a sac fly in the ninth. "It's not pressing. Those guys are actually good.
"We've got no choice now. We've got to go out there and play the game. The only difference is that everybody in the world is going to be watching, everybody in Indonesia. This is the situation we put ourselves in. We're happy to be in that situation. We're just glad for the opportunity."
Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson threw 6 1/3 shutout innings Wednesday, using his changeup to keep the Orioles off-balance. He allowed just one hit and three baserunners. Rays starters allowed just two runs on five hits in 21 1/3 innings in the series, holding the Orioles to a .071 batting average.
Rays third baseman Evan Longoria recorded his second career three-homer game of his career Wednesday, hitting a trio of solo shots, two off Orioles starter Chris Tillman. Tampa Bay second baseman Ryan Roberts also hit a solo homer off Tillman, who lost his first start since Aug. 11, a span of eight starts.
Tillman, who emerged as the Orioles' most reliable starter down the stretch, yielded just four hits over five innings, but three were homers — more than Tillman allowed in his previous five starts combined.
The 25-year-old right-hander entered the night having won eight of his last nine decisions, but he fell behind three batters into the game when Longoria lined a first-pitch fastball into the left-field stands. Longoria also homered of Tillman to lead off the fourth, and his third homer came off right-hander Jake Arrieta on a ball to straightaway center field with one out in the sixth.
"I didn't make my pitches," Tillman said. "I was trying to go away on him with all of them and just couldn't locate the ball to my glove side. I left the ball up in the zone. Sometimes, you've got to give credit where credit is due. He put some good swings on them. I should have been better. … I just wasn't able to locate my fastball away to righties tonight and that's what hurt me tonight."
Jones' one-out fourth-inning single was the Orioles' only hit until the ninth, and it came after Davis reached on a wild pitch third-strike, giving the O's their only runner in scoring position until the ninth inning. Matt Wieters grounded to second to end the inning.
For the second time in three games, Davis hit one of the catwalks at Tropicana Field. On Monday night his ball hit the C-ring — the second from the bottom — and was ruled a two-run homer. On Wednesday, he launched a ball that center fielder B.J. Upton went to the warning track on, but it hit the B-ring and was caught by shortstop Ben Zobrist in shallow center field.
The Orioles wouldn't get another hit until J.J. Hardy's leadoff double in the ninth, and Jones drove him in with a sacrifice fly to center. With Wieters on first base after a two-out single, Rays closer Fernando Rodney induced Jim Thome into a fly out to left to end the game.
It was the Orioles' second series defeat in their last 12, dating back to when they lost two of three in Arlington on Aug. 20-22, a series in which they were outscored 20-9.
"Did we lose two out of three? We did," Showalter said. "We already forgot about it. No, they've got great pitching and they've got so many weapons. And we pitched well, too. I thought Tilly threw the ball pretty well. There just wasn't much margin for error. But the guys are ready. They've worked very hard to have this opportunity."