Loss forces Orioles to visit Texas in Wild Card

Loss forces Orioles to visit Texas in Wild Card

Loss forces Orioles to visit Texas in Wild Card
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Orioles, who set a franchise record in home runs, have been carried by the long ball all season, with 28 of their last 35 runs coming off homers.

But on Wednesday night, in one of the most pivotal games of the season, the O's got a taste of their own medicine. And the end result -- a 4-1 loss to the Rays -- wasn't anything to savor, forcing them to board a plane to Arlington, Texas, to play the Rangers in a one-game Wild Card playoff rather than hosting them at Camden Yards.

"Obviously, we'd like to play as many games at home as we can," outfielder Chris Davis said. "But we knew it would be hard no matter what we were able to do with the way it was this year. But you know what? We've got to saddle up and go to Texas."

"I told our guys how proud I am just to be associated with this bunch; they're a baseball-playing bunch of guys," manager Buck Showalter said of his club, which went from 69-93 in 2011 to 93-69 this season. "They'll let it rip in Texas, and it won't be from timidness. I can tell you that."

The O's, who finished two games behind the American League East-champion Yankees, will play the organization's first postseason game in 15 years on Friday night after losing two of three to the Rays.

What went wrong for a team that hadn't lost the previous four series entering this one?

On Wednesday it was the long ball -- or, more specifically, Evan Longoria. The Rays' third baseman hit three homers for the second time in his career, two of them off starter Chris Tillman.

Tillman, tabbed to pitch following Tuesday's win, entered with a 1.72 ERA over his previous six starts and had established himself as the best starter down the stretch. But the 24-year-old struggled from the onset of his five-inning outing, with Longoria sending his first pitch over the wall two outs into the game. Longoria struck again to start the fourth, sending a full-count changeup deep to extend the lead to two.

"I think I was pretty relaxed," Tillman said. "I had the same mind-set I always do. I went out with the same approach. I just wasn't able to locate my fastball away to righties tonight, and that's what hurt me."

Ryan Roberts followed one out later, making it just the second time in 15 starts that Tillman had allowed three homers. The five-inning outing was Tillman's shortest non-injury-curtailed start since Aug. 16; he exited in favor of Jake Arrieta -- who also surrendered a homer to Longoria -- after 83 pitches.

Conversely, the Orioles couldn't get anything going off Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson, who lived off his changeup and retired the first 11 batters before Davis reached on a strikeout and wild pitch. Adam Jones followed with a single, the team's first hit, to put runners on the corners. But Matt Wieters grounded out to end the inning.

Hellickson was the latest Rays starter to impress, as a Tampa Bay staff that led the Majors in ERA -- the lowest by an AL team in 22 years -- silenced Baltimore's bats the entire series. The Rays pitched to a 1.66 ERA, allowing five earned runs on 10 hits over 27 innings with four walks and 35 strikeouts.

The games had a playoff feel, although the Rays, who end the season 90-72, had been eliminated earlier in the week. And although the Orioles would have liked to have won on Wednesday and brought playoff baseball back to Baltimore, they're alive, and that's still a possibility.

"We are just going to hang our heads and mope into Texas," Davis joked. "Of course we're excited. This is the first time this team has been to the postseason in 15 years. This organization has to be excited. We're ready to go."

"We have no choice: You don't hit, and you go home," Jones added of the sudden-death game. "It's win or go home. It's not a 'maybe' thing. It's win or go home. Both teams know that."

The Orioles end the 2012 regular season with an AL-best 46 road wins, although they went 1-2 in Texas and lost the season series, 5-2.

"I'm looking at [it as] half-full," Showalter said of the challenge that lies ahead. "We've got an opportunity, and it's there for us in nine innings."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.