Orioles shortstop Cesar Izturis, left, can't handle… (AP photo )
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There were times earlier this season when the Orioles would have loved the mere thought of a .500 road trip. After all, they haven't had one in two years and they've won just 17 of their 60 games away from Camden Yards this season.
It's that sort of mentality new manager Buck Showalter will ultimately try to break as he begins to mold the Orioles into what he hopes will be a team that can contend in the American League East. But Showalter knows that it, like his team, is a work in progress.
Given a second chance to secure a winning road trip and their first road series win over a divisional opponent since Showalter took over, the Orioles came up short, falling, 3-2, to the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday in front of an announced 29,654.
Unable to mount much offense against impressive rookie Jeremy Hellickson or to score the tying run against the Rays' bullpen, the Orioles (41-77) finished the trip with a 3-3 mark. They've lost back-to-back games and a series under Showalter for the first time.
"I don't dwell on that," said Showalter, who fell to 9-4 as Orioles manager. "We play a game here we could have won, another game in Cleveland. We try to win every game. We don't look at X number of games on the road trip as being a success or failure. We want to win them all. I know the practicality of that is probably not there, but this isn't a practical game. You don't ever think, 'Oh, we are just playing with house money today.' You want the mentality of stepping on their neck when you got them down."
The Orioles haven't had a winning trip since they took four of seven games against the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers on Aug. 11-17, 2008. A win would have also meant the team had won a fourth straight series for the first time since August 2004.
However, unlike Saturday, when rookie starter Brian Matusz couldn't hold an early three-run lead, the Orioles never had the upper hand on Tampa Bay on Sunday. The Rays, the leaders in the AL wild-card race, broke a tie at 1 in the third with an RBI single from Carl Crawford and an RBI double from Matt Joyce off Jake Arrieta, who overcame a tough start to hold Tampa Bay (71-46) to three runs through six innings.
The Orioles cut the deficit to one on Jake Fox's seventh-inning homer off Dan Wheeler, but the visitors got only one base runner the rest of the way -- on Nick Markakis' two-out triple in the eighth. However, he was stranded when Joaquin Benoit overpowered Ty Wigginton with a high 2-2 fastball.
"When you're a good team, you find ways to win series," Wigginton said. "That's the object. Whether you are on the road or at home, it should not matter. You've got to find a way, especially after winning the first [game]. We had two cracks, and we didn't get it done."
A big reason was that the Orioles were held in check by Hellickson, a 23-year-old making just his third big league start. Hellickson, who is 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA, didn't have his best stuff as he did in his previous outing, when he pitched seven shutout innings against the Detroit Tigers, allowing just three hits and striking out seven.
He allowed his only run Sunday in the second inning on Felix Pie's sacrifice fly, which scored Luke Scott and tied the score at 1. Scott had led off the inning with a double.
The Orioles had another chance in the fourth with men on first and second and one out, and Hellickson struck out Pie and Fox. That started a stretch in which the rookie retired the final eight hitters he faced.
"He had very good arm action on his off-speed [pitches], and he hit his spots," Scott said. "He had a good idea on how to pitch, well beyond for being a rookie. He was just a very good pitcher. He didn't give us much."
Arrieta tried to keep pace, but he fell behind often, elevated his pitch count and couldn't do much with Crawford. The Rays' speedy left fielder belted a 1-1 fastball into the right-field seats in the first inning, and he was in the middle of Tampa Bay's two-run third.
John Jaso hit a one-out single, Ben Zobrist drew a walk and then Crawford lined an RBI single into left field. Two batters later, Joyce drove Arrieta's pitch out of Markakis' reach in right field, the RBI double giving the Rays a 3-1 lead and holding up as the winning run.
"I think the two big mistakes today were the one to Crawford in the first inning that I elevated for a home run, and that pitch to Joyce was just a fastball. It was supposed to be a sinker that just stayed middle," said Arrieta, who fell to 4-4 with a 5.23 ERA. "Professional hitters are going to put a good swing on a pitch like that and do some damage. Just one of those things where it was a mistake I didn't get away with. It's going to happen from time to time, but I really strapped it on and got through six today."
Arrieta retired the final nine hitters he faced, but like the Orioles' 3-3 road stretch, that wasn't any consolation to Showalter, who watched an opportunity to win a game, a series and a road trip slip away.
"We had our chances, but these games like this are the type of games that in the future, we are going to have to win," Showalter said. "We are going to have to do a better job of minimizing the damage because you never know how much is enough, and you are always thinking about the what-ifs."
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