It was a night when the Orioles could not afford to forget what they do well and remember what they don’t.
They needed badly to hold serve against the last-place Tampa Bay Rays after the first-place Boston Red Sox won earlier in the afternoon. But Chris Davis committed a key error in the eighth inning and the Rays scored two unearned runs to ease their way to a 5-2 victory before 27,823 on Saturday night at Camden Yards.
Starting pitcher Chris Tillman threw well for five innings after the Orioles took an early two-run lead. But the offense sputtered in the middle innings and left the door wide open for a Rays comeback that included another big home run by Evan Longoria, who has hit one in every game of the series.
Tillman (16-6) lost after finishing with three earned runs on four hits and a walk in 5 2/3 innings. He struck out six.
So, in a four-game home series that was considered a soft spot in the Orioles’ September schedule after they played so well against contending competition on their last road trip, it is the Rays who are guaranteed at least a split going into a series finale Sunday that features slumping Baltimore starter Wade Miley.
These are the same Tampa Bay Rays who had not won a game at Camden Yards this season until this series, but they clearly came to play and have made an impact on the division race.
“It’s not like we’ve been out there playing against ourselves," Adam Jones said. “We’re playing against other major leaguers. You can say what you want about the Rays and the standings, but they’ve got a formidable major league team over there and they’re not just laying down dying and quitting and letting us win. Tip your caps to them for continuing their effort and their grind.”
The Orioles (81-67) have fallen to three games behind the Red Sox in the American League East and are in danger of falling further right in time to face Boston in a four-game series at Camden Yards that begins Monday. The Orioles can say that their task is still in front of them, but if they head into that series three or four games out, the Red Sox will be in a position to knock them too far off the pace to have any realistic chance of winning the AL East.
The Orioles also picked a bad time to forget how to attack Rays starter Matt Andriese. In his five career appearances against them before Saturday, he was 0-3 and had allowed 13 earned runs in 12 2/3 innings (9.24 ERA), but he tied them in knots this time.
It didn’t start out that way. Jones opened the first inning with a double and scored on a one-out sacrifice fly to right field by Manny Machado. After that, the Orioles scored just one more run off Andriese — on two singles and a sacrifice fly.
“I think he shows you why he’s had success and why they think highly of him," manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s one of their strengths. They’re seven or eight deep in starting pitching. He’s trying to leave a good taste in their mouth. … These guys are major league pitchers that are the best pitchers in the world, and on any given night they show you that they’re good and tonight was one of those nights.”
More defensive follies
Soon after Longoria tripled for the first Tampa Bay hit of the game in the fourth inning, Rays shortstop Brad Miller pulled a sharp ground ball to Davis at first. It would have been an easy step-on-first out, but Davis tried to get Longoria at the plate and his throw was a step too late. It was a lost out that could have had a negative consequence after Tillman hit Steven Souza Jr. with a pitch to push Miller into scoring position. But Tillman retired Richie Shaffer to end the inning.
Earlier in Boston
The Red Sox rallied from a three-run, middle-inning deficit to move to the brink of a four-game sweep of the New York Yankees at Fenway Park. The Red Sox won the game, 6-5, after Mookie Betts scored on a wild pitch in the seventh.