ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Teams that don't contend in September or play well enough to carry out their assigned duties as spoilers often get exiled to baseball purgatory. They're herded inside a bland structure where the grass is fake, along with the scant traces of enthusiasm coming from the stands. To residents of this state, the games rank in popularity a few notches below sunstroke.
This is where the Orioles have gone, far removed from the pennant races, prohibited from taking aim in the wild-card hunt. It's like being put on timeout for 72 hours.
But no matter how unappealing three games against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays might seem, interim manager Sam Perlozzo wasn't going to let his players simply pretend to care. They're not good actors anyway, as evidenced by their earlier portrayals of a first-place club. So they checked the lineup card, slipped on their gray road uniforms and rallied for a 7-6 victory before 15,805 at Tropicana Field on Friday night.
Melvin Mora hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning to give the Orioles a 6-5 lead, and they overcame his two errors in the eighth and a poor start from John Maine to win for only the second time in 13 tries.
"We talked about it before the game," Perlozzo said. "We weren't going to go out and scream and yell, but as teammates, we owed it to each other to play as well as we could and let the chips fall where they may. And have a little fun, too."
There also had to be some drama. Mora made a bad throw and misplayed a bouncer on consecutive batters, but the Devil Rays scored only once before Todd Williams struck out Damon Hollins and Jorge Cantu.
"I'm glad he picked me up," Mora said. "That's how it's supposed to be."
In his final appearance, Maine surrendered five runs and six hits in 2 2/3 innings. He walked three and exited after 65 pitches, unable to hold a 3-0 lead.
Aubrey Huff hit a three-run homer in the third, and Maine walked two batters before Eric DuBose (2-3) replaced him and gave the Orioles 3 1/3 scoreless innings.
"I think a lot of it was trying to be too fine and making a perfect pitch," Maine said. "I've got to work on my mechanics. I have to get to the point where everything is the same."
Maine has allowed 16 earned runs in his past three starts covering seven innings. If not traded, he'll go to spring training next year with a shot at making the rotation, but still having much to prove.
"He had a couple of rough outings, and he looked like he was trying to put positive thoughts in our heads," Perlozzo said.
Maine wasn't the only ineffective starter Friday night, just the first to leave. Tampa Bay's Doug Waechter threw 29 pitches in the first inning while allowing three runs.
Jay Gibbons drove in one with a double to left, and Luis Matos produced the other two when he looped a double to right field with two outs.
David Newhan led off the fourth with a double and scored on Bernie Castro's one-out single. Mora followed with his 25th homer.
For sheer drama, the moment paled in comparison to the events unfolding in two other cities.
In Boston on Friday, the Red Sox defeated the New York Yankees, 5-3, at Fenway Park and moved into a first-place tie in the American League East. In Cleveland on Friday, the Indians lost, 3-2, in 13 innings and fell one game behind in the wild-card chase.
In St. Petersburg, the Orioles were merely existing. But victories are allowed in purgatory. They're even encouraged.
Notes -- Reliever John Parrish took a break from rehabbing his left elbow in Sarasota, Fla., and visited the clubhouse. Parrish underwent ligament-reconstructive surgery on July 15 and expects to begin throwing in November. "I'm ahead of schedule," he said. ... Second baseman Brian Roberts underwent successful surgery Friday in Cincinnati to repair a tendon and reconstruct a ligament in his left email@example.com