ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – There was plenty of blame to go around after the Orioles' 2-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night, but very little of it could be placed on right-hander Tommy Hunter.
Yes, Hunter's biggest problem this season has been his inability to keep the ball in the park.
But Hunter pitched well against the Rays, falling just one out short of a quality start. He made two mistakes, a pair of solo home runs that — combined with the Orioles' continued struggles with runners in scoring position — proved to be the difference before an announced 18,410 at Tropicana Field.
With their second straight loss, the Orioles (55-51), who entered the night tied with the Rays, fell into third place in the American League East for the first time since July 17 and just the second time since June 12.
Hunter held the Rays to six hits over 5 2/3 innings, but B.J. Upton's homer to straight-away center in the fourth and Desmond Jennings' shot to left in the sixth were all the Rays needed to hold off the Orioles' struggling offense.
"Tommy didn't make many mistakes," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Tough to fault him. He was really good.
"We knew runs were going to be at a premium," added Showalter, referring to a Rays staff that has a major league best 2.34 team ERA since the All-Star break. "I liked our chances if I knew we were only going to give up two there, but they pitched real well. That's why they're able to do the things they do. They're very deep in their pitching."
Hunter (4-7) has allowed 26 homers this season, most in the majors, in just 106 2/3 innings. He's allowed 2.19 home runs per nine innings, given up at least one homer in 15 of his 17 starts and has allowed two or more in six of those outings.
But the Orioles haven't given Hunter much help this season, and that continued as they stranded 10 baserunners and struck out 11 times Friday night.
The Orioles have scored two or fewer runs while Hunter was in the game in 10 of his last 15 starts.
"We got to do a better job of getting [Hunter] some runs and let him go out there and throw," said first baseman Mark Reynolds, who was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and left six men on base. "He probably felt like he had to make no mistakes tonight. But it's just one of those nights, and we will come back tomorrow and go at it. We have two games left here, two big ones. We know that and we will play our tails off trying to get these next two."
The Orioles continue to struggle with runners in scoring position, going 0-for-7 for the night and 0-for-22 over their past two games. Their most recent hit with runners in scoring position was Nick Markakis' two-run homer, which came with a runner on third, in the eighth inning of Tuesday's 11-5 win over the Yankees in the Bronx.
"We did a lot of good things to get people out there [on base], but there's two sides to that coin," Showalter said. "You've got to take advantage of them. A couple balls were hit out of the ballpark that made the difference tonight."
Upton hit his 10th homer of the season — and the 100th of his career — on Hunter's first pitch of the fourth inning, a 92-mph fastball that landed just over the 404-foot sign in center. Jennings led off the sixth by jolting a 2-2 fastball for his eighth homer of the season.
"It [stinks]," Hunter said. "I don't want to give up home runs. I don't want to do that. I guess you could look at it positive. I'd much rather give up solo shots than with guys on, but you don't want to give them up in general."
Hunter came out of the game with two outs in the sixth, giving way to a bullpen that tossed 2 1/3 perfect innings (Darren O'Day went two innings and Troy Patton 1/3 of an inning).
The Orioles loaded the bases with two outs in the first inning against Rays left-hander Matt Moore, but Reynolds struck out to end the inning. They also had a runner at second and no outs in the sixth, but Moore struck out Reynolds, and reliever Jake McGee induced a fly out to center from Lew Ford and struck out Omar Quintanilla to end the threat.
The Orioles also had runners at first and second with one out in the eighth against reliever Joel Peralta, but Reynolds struck out looking and Peralta got pinch-hitter Wilson Betemit swinging.
The No. 6 and 7 hitters — Reynolds and Ford, with Betemit pinch-hitting in the eighth — were 0-for-8 with six strikeouts, leaving nine men on base.
"We had a bunch of chances," said Reynolds, who turned 29 on Friday. "I know I had a lot of chances tonight. We just didn't come through, which is very frustrating. I know we got to get better, I got to get better in those situations. I think tonight I was overthinking a little too much."