ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — No more than 10 minutes after the final pitch of the Orioles' peculiar 3-2 loss Saturday to the Tampa Bay Rays, catcher Nick Hundley was already in the hallway outside the visiting clubhouse of Tropicana Field, on his back, tossing a medicine ball to Orioles strength and conditioning coach Joe Hogarty.
Hundley, a veteran catcher who has done a solid job helping to fill in for injured starter Matt Wieters, took the blame for the Orioles' second loss in as many days here.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Orioles allowed the winning run to score when left-hander Andrew Miller's second pitch to pinch hitter Ryan Hanigan deflected off Hundley's mitt for a passed ball, allowing Yunel Escobar to score the game-winning run in walk-off fashion.
"It's tough," Hundley said. "We lose a game because I didn't catch a ball. It's cut and dried right there. So I've got to go back to working and keep trying to get better in every phase. You let your team down, so hopefully the next time you get out there, you can pick them up."
It was the first time a Major League Baseball game ended on a passed ball in nearly a year. The Seattle Mariners lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, 2-1, on a passed ball last Sept. 13.
With the loss, the first-place Orioles' (82-59) division lead fell to 8 1/2 games games with the New York Yankees' win Saturday.
After scoring 20 runs total in a three-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds, the Orioles have just two runs in their first two games here at Tropicana Field. They've also struck out 24 times, have gone 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position in the first two games of the series and have just one extra-base hit. They had 11 extra-base hits against the Reds.
Saturday's loss, before an announced 17,969 at Tropicana Field, was one of their strangest games this season.
With the Orioles trailing 2-1 in the seventh, Hundley, who went 2-for-4, missed a game-tying homer by a matter of inches, hitting a pitch by Joel Peralta off the top railing of the left-field fence for a long single. The Orioles' next three hitters struck out to end the inning.
The Orioles managed just four hits in six innings off Rays left-hander Drew Smyly, the Rays' key acquisition in the trade that sent ace David Price to the Detroit Tigers, with their only run off him coming on a second-inning solo homer by third baseman Chris Davis.
"Are they going to shut him down now?" Orioles manager Buck Showalter asked, referring to talk that Saturday's start could be Smyly's last of the season. "I wish they would have done it a week earlier. He's good. It was a quality trade for both clubs. He's going to be a good one."
Overshadowed by Smyly's outing was a solid performance by Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman, who held the Rays to two runs and five hits in seven innings.
Smyly was equally dominant last week in Baltimore, where he held the Orioles to one run and two hits in seven innings. The Orioles' only run in that 3-1 loss came, again, on a solo homer by Davis.
That's why Davis asked his way into the starting lineup Saturday. Showalter wanted to give Davis a day off in a day-after-night game, and originally posted a lineup without Davis. But Davis walked into Showalter's office asking to be in the lineup.
He opened the second by taking a first-pitch slider over the right-field fence, giving the Orioles a 1-0 lead with his 26th homer of the season.
Designated hitter Delmon Young and Hundley followed with back-to-back singles to put two on with no outs, but the Orioles could not get a run across. After Hundley's single, Smyly allowed just two more base runners and one more hit, right fielder Nick Markakis' fifth-inning single, retiring 15 of his final 17 hitters.
In four appearances against the Orioles this season — two with Detroit and two with Tampa Bay — Smyly is 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA. Over his career, he has a 1.00 ERA over six appearances against the Orioles.
The Rays plated two runs off Gausman in the third inning. He issued four walks on the day, three of them to leadoff hitter Ben Zobrist. None was as damaging as a one-out walk in the third to Zobrist.
"You never want to walk anybody, but there were a couple close pitches in that at-bat," Gausman said. "I finally got him out his last at-bat, and of course it was a 3-2 count. He's a really good hitter and he'll lay off some really good pitches. I threw him some real good changeups, really good split-changes. But I think he's kind of realized he doesn't want to get beat swinging at my split."
Two batters later, Zobrist scored the tying run after going from first to third on David DeJesus' single and coming home on Evan Longoria's sacrifice fly. The Rays scored the go-ahead run after back-to-back, two-out singles, the second a line drive by Wil Myers that scored DeJesus after center fielder Adam Jones couldn't come up with it.
Gausman went seven innings in back-to-back starts for the first time in his career, and he kept the Rays off balance with his split changeup, recording a career-high seven strikeouts for the third time in his past four starts.
The Orioles tied the game in the eighth with the help of an errant pickoff throw by left-hander Jake McGee, whose poor throw to first to get out speedy pinch runner Quintin Berry allowed him to reach second. Berry later scored on Nelson Cruz's RBI single up the middle.
The Orioles could have done more damage that inning, placing runners at first and second with one out after following a single by Davis, but Young hit a rocket right to Longoria at third, who doubled off pinch runner David Lough at second.
"I was really proud of us against one of the best relief pitchers in the league, scratching a run off him," Showalter said of McGee." And if Delmon doesn't hit a ball right at someone, maybe it's a different story."
The bottom of the ninth began with leadoff hitter Yunel Escobar's reaching on a fielding error by shortstop Ryan Flaherty, who failed to field Escobar's chopper in the hole cleanly. Escobar moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and to third on a deep flyout to center.
The Orioles intentionally walked Zobrist to face DeJesus, bringing in Miller. The Rays countered with pinch hitter Ryan Hanigan.
The matchup wouldn't matter, as Miller's second pitch — a high-and-away fastball — got past Hundley, allowing Escobar to score from third and ending the game with a celebration at home plate.
"I think what happened was either Hundley just tried to catch the ball a little too far at the end of his glove, to try to get a strike, or the ball just ran a little more than he expected it to," said Longoria, who was in the on-deck circle. "It looked like it just nicked the end of his glove, and he couldn't hold on to it. Fortunately for us, because I think if [the ball] goes clear by his glove, it might come back off the backstop a little bit harder and we probably wouldn't have been able to score. So I think that was a blessing in disguise, the way it happened."
Hundley didn't offer any excuse. He said it was a play he should have made.
"I didn't catch the ball," Hundley said. "Probably a strike. Can't remember the last time that's happened, where I've just flat-out missed it, and it's unfortunate in that situation. I've got to do a better job. … That's on me. Nothing had to do with the pitch, the location. Just didn't get it done, didn't make a play."