ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Orioles have pledged that they show up to the ballpark each night expecting to win. Friday night brought a reminder that the other teams in the American League East feel the same way.
A 5-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays ended Baltimore’s 10-game winning streak — their longest in one season since 1999 — each leg of which came against a team outside of their division. The defeat, which of opened the final series of the first half of the season, brought the Orioles (45-45) back to .500. They are 15-20 against the AL East’s other four teams, all of whom entered Friday in playoff position, and 30-25 against the rest of the league.
“They don’t call it the ‘AL Beast’ for nothing,” starting pitcher Tyler Wells said. “Right now, I think that we’re also showing that we’re right there with them. We’re just as hard to beat right now as they are.”
Tropicana Field is perhaps the lone locale that can be questioned. Friday marked the Orioles’ first visit here since a season-opening sweep, one manager Brandon Hyde said before the game “feels like a long time ago.” Although the Orioles are playing much better than when they last left, the result was the same, as they’ve lost 10th straight and 16 of 17 their past games in St. Petersburg.
“Not in here, but kind of from the outside, [that sweep] was like ‘Oh, same old Orioles again,’ and it’s cool to come back here with a winning record this late in the season,” Trey Mancini said before the game. “And as I keep saying, not the end goal, but something to be proud of. We have come a long way as a team and that’s because a lot of these guys have made themselves into great players and we’ve learned how to play as a unit.”
Mancini’s solo homer in the top of the third held up through the bottom half, marking the first time in 62 innings the Orioles led after an inning at the Trop. A frame later, Ramón Urías extended the lead with the first of his two home runs, though those blasts to left field bookended five straight runs for Tampa Bay.
A leadoff walk issued by Wells in the bottom of the fourth stung when Yu Chang doubled with one out to score the Rays’ first run. Wells retired the next seven batters he faced before consecutive doubles from Josh Lowe and Chang tied the game and ended his outing.
“To say I’m disappointed is an understatement,” Wells said. “I think that the results showed up OK, but at the end of the day, we lost the game. I felt like I didn’t do my job by keeping us in it, especially in the sixth inning, and it’s weighing pretty heavy on me.”
Hyde turned to left-hander Cionel Pérez, who hadn’t allowed an earned run in over a month. But he surrendered a third straight Rays double, this one from Francisco Mejía, that gave Tampa Bay its first lead of the night. Mejía came home when Christian Bethancourt snuck a home run over the venue’s short left field wall, with Orioles left fielder Anthony Santander seemingly overrunning a fly ball umpires initially ruled foul.
The ball had an expected batting average of .060, according to Statcast, tied for the sixth-lowest on a home run the Orioles have allowed since 2015.
“Cionel Pérez has been money in the bank for us for the entire season,” Hyde said. “Just left a pitch for Mejía to hit and then the home run was kind of a weird one down the line.”
Urías struck a more definitive two-run shot in the eighth to get the Orioles within one, but it marked their only run-producing hit with a runner in scoring position all night. Rookie catcher Adley Rutschman went 0-for-3 in those situations, twice coming up empty with the bases loaded.
The Orioles’ past three losses and six of their previous nine have come by one run. The most recent pair before Friday were walk-off defeats in Minnesota that led directly into a streak that saw Baltimore gain six games in the AL wild-card standings, pitch dominantly and hit in the clutch.
“Chances are you’re not going to run the table the rest of the year,” Mancini said, “so it’s how do you respond from here?”
Wells had an emphatic answer.
“I think you’re gonna see us bounce back pretty good,” Wells said. “The feeling of losing after 10 games is not a feeling that we want.”
Added Urías: “Let’s start another one tomorrow, right?”
Return of Ramón
After missing nearly a month with a left oblique strain, Urías returned for what proved to be the second game of the Orioles’ streak. He’s been quite the tear himself.
Friday was his first career two-homer game, and it brought his batting line to .387/.441/.677 in 10 games back with Baltimore. Urías has hit the ball hard throughout the season, but he’s been hitting the ball in the air more of late, citing a “better launch angle” for his uptick.
“Gave us a huge spark offensively, playing really well defensively,” Hyde said. “He’s got some huge hits for us since he’s been back. He lengthens our lineup, too, at the bottom. He’s a guy that covers the plate and takes good at-bats.”
Wells’ step forward
The Orioles have changed since their previous visit to Tropicana Field. So has Wells.
In his first major league start, Wells allowed four runs while recording five outs. Over his next 17 starts, he has a 3.01 ERA.
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Wells is the first Orioles starter with such a stretch in one season since Chris Tillman in 2016. Wells’ streaks of six straight winning decisions and five straight on the road, both of which also ended Friday, were the longest by an Oriole starter since Tillman won nine straight decisions in 2016 and eight straight away from home since 2014.
“I feel like I’ve taken a lot of big steps forward,” Wells said. “I think that there’s still so much for me to get better at, more consistent at. So I’m looking forward to being able to kind of take that into the second half.”
Dean Kremer, who suffered a left oblique strain while warming in the bullpen to replace Wells in that first start, will start for Baltimore on Saturday, with Hyde saying Jordan Lyles will “more than likely” pitch Sunday’s first-half finale. Austin Voth, who has taken the past five turns in the Orioles’ rotation, will be available out of the bullpen.
Saturday, 4:10 p.m.
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