ST. PETERSBURG — This one was strictly for the Birds.
The Rays — mostly lifeless throughout and hitless into the sixth inning Friday night — were bludgeoned 10-3 by the Baltimore Orioles before 12,380 fans at Tropicana Field in a game that signaled the American League East’s changing fortunes.
“Just not ideal,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We’ve got to find a way to get out of this a little bit. It’s not coming easy for anybody.”
If the playoffs started today, the Rays (58-53) would not be in them. The Orioles (59-53) surged ahead by a half game for the AL’s third and final wild-card spot. The Rays have lost four of their last five. The Orioles, who had 19 hits (a season high allowed by the Rays) and smacked a pair of 400-foot-plus home runs off the Trop’s C-ring catwalk in rightfield, are 24-11 since July 1.
Last season, when the Orioles were 52-110 and finished 1-18 against the 100-victory Rays, seems a million miles away.
“They’ve played us really, really well all season long,” Cash said. “Give those guys credit that they find a way to come up with a big hit, a big at-bat, a big play and they’ve certainly made big pitches against us.”
“I was talking to my teammates that they’re a more complete team,” Rays third baseman Yandy Diaz said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “Their offense is a little bit better, and their pitching is playing very well this year.”
Rays right-hander Corey Kluber (7-7) was battered for 10 hits and seven earned runs over 5 2/3 innings. And that was before the Rays had gotten their first hit off Orioles right-hander Austin Voth (3-1), who surrendered an infield single against Christian Bethancourt to lead off the sixth.
Randy Arozarena followed with a two-run homer that averted the shutout. Otherwise, the Rays were shut down in an ominous start to a brutal stretch (17 games in 17 days).
“No doubt it’s frustrating,” Kluber said. “Frustrating in the sense that it’s resulting in runs, that it’s making it harder to win games. That being said, I don’t know what else to do besides try to continue making good pitches. Im not going to be able to come out here next time throwing 100 miles an hour, you know what I mean? Other than to stick with it and continue trying to execute pitches … that’s the only way I know.”
Adley Rutschman, the game’s second batter, provided a 1-0 lead with a home-run off the C-ring catwalk in rightfield, a mammoth blast estimated at 439 feet by Statcast. The Orioles got single runs in the second and fifth innings, before blowing it open with a four-run sixth.
Rougned Odor (4-for-5) and Jorge Mateo (5-for-5) had RBI singles to finish Kluber. Reliever Shawn Armstrong was greeted by Cedric Mullins RBI single and it was 7-0.
The Rays’ offense finally got going late, collecting five hits, scoring their runs on Arozarena’s homer and Taylor Walls’ RBI double in the seventh.
Mullins tacked on for the Orioles in the eighth with a homer off that rightfield C-ring catwalk that traveled an estimated 411 feet.
By the ninth inning, the game had devolved into comedy. The Rays, trying to preserve their bullpen, turned to infielder Yu Chang on the mound. Chang threw 14 pitches and allowed one run. He topped out at 44 mph and threw three pitches in the 30s.
The Rays meet the Orioles on Saturday afternoon at 4:10 in the second contest of the three-game series, trying to avoid losing a home series against the Orioles for the first time since 2017.
“Teams go up and down,” Diaz said. “I think we’ve kind of probably been on the down end most of this year, but I think all we have to do is just keep on working.”
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