Orioles top Rays; still tied for AL lead
Baltimore Orioles' Matt Wieters, left, slides past Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Ben Zobrist for a double in the eighth inning of a baseball game in Baltimore, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Published Thursday, September 13, 2012 10:34AM EDT
BALTIMORE -- The Tampa Bay Rays had a familiar lament after an agonizing loss to the Baltimore Orioles.
Tampa Bay stranded 11, went 2 for 10 with runners in scoring position and dropped a 3-2 decision Wednesday night to fall three games behind co-leaders Baltimore and the New York Yankees in the AL East.
"We had opportunities we didn't capitalize on," leadoff hitter B.J. Upton said. "In the past we've been a great team in close ball games. This year it hasn't been that way."
The Rays have lost 12 of their last 15 one-run games. In this one, Tampa Bay got nine hits and seven walks but scored only twice, and one of those runs came on Upton's homer on the game's second pitch.
"That's typical of why we're several games behind right now," manager Joe Maddon said. "We have had great pitching, but we're not getting a hit when we need it."
Manny Machado led off the ninth inning with a single and scored the winning run on a single by Nate McLouth to keep the Orioles tied atop the division with the Yankees, who beat Boston 5-4.
Machado also made a key defensive play in the top of the ninth for the Orioles, who will seek to complete a three-game sweep Thursday. Baltimore is 18 games over .500 (80-62) for the first time since the end of the 1997 season.
Machado led off the ninth with a single off Kyle Farnsworth (1-5), took second on a bunt and scored when McLouth hit a liner off the right-field wall. McLouth has assumed the leadoff role in place of Nick Markakis, who broke his left thumb on Saturday.
In the top of the ninth, pinch-runner Rich Thompson was on second with two outs when Evan Longoria topped a pitch from Jim Johnson (2-1) down the third-base line. Machado picked it up and faked a throw to first as Thompson rounded third. Machado flipped the ball to shortstop J.J. Hardy at third base, starting a rundown that ended with Thompson being tagged out by catcher Matt Wieters.
"A great play by Machado there," Maddon said. "I'm not going to fault Thompson. If he throws that ball to first base and Longo's safe, he scores and it's a great play. Have to give the third baseman credit for a heads-up play."
Machado said, "I was trying to get Evan out to be honest, but then when I came up I saw I had no chance. So I did a pump-fake and tried to deke the runner. It was just natural. I just came out and didn't think about it."
Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez allowed two runs, six hits and five walks in six innings. He yielded a leadoff home run for the third time this season, but finished by retiring Jose Molina with the bases loaded and the score 2-all.
Tampa Bay right-hander Alex Cobb gave up two runs and seven hits in 4 2-3 innings. He's 5-0 with three no-decisions in his last eight starts.
Cobb was followed by Jake McGee, who struck out all four batters he faced in his 17th straight scoreless appearance.
Upton staked Tampa Bay to a 1-0 lead with his eighth career leadoff homer and third this year.
In the bottom half, after RBI singles by Wieters and Wilson Betemit gave Baltimore a 2-1 lead, Cobb struck out Mark Reynolds with one out and runners on second and third. A walk loaded the bases for Machado, who hit into a fielder's choice.
Through the first two innings, Baltimore was 2 for 8 with runners in scoring position.
Ben Francisco tied it for Tampa Bay with a two-out RBI double in the third. Carlos Pena then hit a routine fly ball with two runners in scoring position.
The Rays threatened in the sixth. A single, a walk and a balk put runners at second and third with one out before Gonzalez struck out Ryan Roberts. An intentional walk loaded the bases for Molina, and the crowd of 26,076 stood in anticipation when the count reached 1-2. Molina fouled off a pitch before hitting a grounder to first.
NOTES: Tampa Bay OF Desmond Jennings (lower back tightness) was available to play but did not start after missing the previous three games. ... Rookie LHP Wei-Yin Chen (12-9) starts for the Orioles on Thursday afternoon. The Rays will start Jeremy Hellickson (8-10), who's winless since Aug. 20. ... Roberts, who strained his left forearm Tuesday night, started at 2B. ... Reynolds struck out three times. ... Upton reached 30 steals for the fifth straight season.