ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Orioles manager Buck Showalter has been coy in recent days about the availability of his late-inning arms, but before Friday night's series opener against the Tampa Bay Rays, he disclosed that five of his relievers wouldn't be available.
Later Friday, that would put the fate of a scoreless game in the hands of recently recalled relievers who joined the club when rosters expanded earlier this week.
And the Orioles bullpen, devoid of many of the arms they would turn to in a tight game, allowed three runs in the eighth inning of an eventual 3-0 before an announced 14,632 at Tropicana Field.
Orioles right-hander Ryan Webb, who hadn't pitched in nine days, allowed a pair of back-to-back singles to open the eighth, his second inning of work. Right-hander Evan Meek then entered the game, but he walked James Loney on five pitches to load the bases. Yunel Escobar lined a bases-loaded RBI single that bounced off second baseman Jonathan Schoop's glove, and Meek allowed a two-run single to Ryan Hanigan two batters later.
The Orioles (82-58) still lead the second-place New York Yankees in the American League East by 9 1/2 games. The Kansas City Royals beat the Yankees, 1-0, on Friday.
After scoring 20 runs total in their three-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds, a home series that included seven Orioles homers, runs were hard to come by in their series opener in Tampa Bay. They were shut out for the first time since Aug. 16, against the Cleveland Indians; struck out 11 times; and didn't get a base runner to third base all night.
The Orioles have dominated the Rays this season, entering the night with 11 wins in 16 games and five in six at Tropicana Field, but it was obvious that as they began a final stretch of 23 regular-season games against teams in their own division, they weren't at full strength.
In the eighth inning of a scoreless game, the Orioles didn't have right-hander Darren O'Day or left-hander Andrew Miller available, who usually would slot into a late-game relief role. Right-hander Tommy Hunter, right-hander Brad Brach and closer Zach Britton, who all pitched in Thursday's series finale against the Reds, also likely weren't available.
"They pitched a little bit better than we did," Showalter said. "We have five guys we were not going to use tonight, or couldn't, in some cases, because of what we did to beat Cincinnati three times."
Webb was pitching in a game for the first time since a sore shoulder kept him out of the final few games of Triple-A Norfolk's season. After pitching a scoreless seventh inning, the singles he allowed to Longoria and Myers both came with two strikes.
"I got ahead, but they really weren't quality two-strike pitches," Webb said. "They were kind of out over the plate, and Longoria kind of hit his well, and Myers kind of rapped that one for a ground ball that we couldn't get. They weren't great pitches with two strikes. You just have to make more two-strike pitches. That's all."
Meek allowed three of the four batters he faced to reach base. The walk to Loney, the first batter he faced, loaded the bases with no outs. And the run-scoring hits by Escobar and Hanigan turned the game in Tampa Bay's favor.
Although starter Wei-Yin Chen allowed just four hits over six shutout innings, he walked a tightrope throughout the night. The left-hander stranded seven Tampa Bay base runners, including four in scoring position.
Chen labored through a 36-pitch second inning in which he stranded the bases loaded and overcame a leadoff double in the sixth to keep the game scoreless.
The Orioles managed just six hits against Rays right-hander Alex Cobb, but never placed a runner at third base. They reached second just twice.
They had runners at first and second in the second innings off Cobb, but Schoop struck out the end the inning.
Their best opportunity to score off Cobb was in the sixth, with center field Adam Jones on second with two outs after a one-out single and wild pitch.
First baseman Chris Davis hit a line drive into right field that Myers dived for and caught to prevent a run.
The Orioles went out quickly in the late innings. Reliever Brad Boxberger retired the Orioles in the eighth and closer Jake McGee struck out the side in the ninth
"We didn't score any runs," Showalter said. "Cobb would be third or fourth in ERA [in the American League], and Boxberger's having a great year, and so is McGee. They put a goose egg up there."
In the second inning, Chen allowed a leadoff single to Myers, then issued back-to-back two-out walks to Logan Forsythe and Hanigan. He got out of the inning only after inducing a flyout from No. 9 hitter Sean Rodriguez.
"That inning, I allowed a lot of foul balls, and so I kind of struggled with my command there, so I feel fortunate that I could get out of it without any runs," Chen said through interpreter Louis Chao. "After that inning, I tried to be more efficient, so I tried to attack the ,hitters not wasting any pitches that I don't need to. I hope I can also do that in the future games."
Longoria opened the sixth with a leadoff double, but Chen stranded runners at first and second after striking out Logan Forsythe to send the inning.