If there was any lesson within the Orioles' unsettling 6-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night, it was the damage that late-inning walks in close games can cause.
The Orioles bullpen was stung not once but twice, by walks in the ninth and 10th innings that led to trouble.
Before the free passes, Brad Brach was making the ninth inning look easy, well on his way to his 16th save of the season as the Orioles' interim closer.
Brach needed just eight pitches to record the first two outs of the inning, but then his outing quickly unraveled as the Orioles bullpen took one on the chin.
Brach was one strike away from a 1-2-3 inning in the ninth, working pinch hitter Shane Peterson into a 2-2 count, but couldn't put him away and three two-strike pitches later issued a walk to put the tying run on base.
It seemed harmless enough at the time, but after Brach was called for a balk and then threw a wild pitch to newly acquired shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, the tying run was just 90 feet away from scoring.
Brach quickly worked ahead of Hechavarria with two swings and misses, including one that had him swinging so wildly that he went to one knee. But three pitches later, Hechavarria looped an RBI single to left to tie the game at 3.
Brach said the inning started to go wrong with the seven-pitch walk to Peterson.
"You can't walk a guy there," Brach said, "especially when you have two strikes on him and he's at the bottom of the order. I should've just challenged him there. The walk was definitely the huge thing. But I've gotta keep my composure out there and not let the walk get to me. That just can't happen."
Brach was still flummoxed by the balk call after the game, while Orioles manager Buck Showalter said that many other things followed to create the ninth-inning mess.
"I wish they'd change it," Showalter said of the rule. "But we had a wild pitch/passed ball after that and a base hit, so there were a lot of other things that could have happened to give yourself some breathing room there."
Brach's blown save pushed Darren O'Day into a quick warmup for the 10th when the Orioles went down in order quickly on 13 pitches against former Orioles farmhand Jumbo Diaz.
O'Day walked Corey Dickerson on five pitches to open the inning. When Dickerson moved to second on an Evan Longoria groundout, O'Day intentionally walked Logan Morrison with first base open to set up a double play.
He then got ahead of Steven Souza Jr. 1-2. But Souza worked the count full before taking a slider over the center-field fence for a three-run homer.
"I can't walk the leadoff guy," O'Day said. "I'm not trying to throw a meatball, but I threw some good pitches, so I don't know. I thought it was the right move walking Morrison to set up a double play. Souza and I faced each other, what four days ago? I struck him out on a full-count slider. I had good success against him in the past. I felt comfortable throwing that pitch. It wasn't where it need to be."