"I didn't really build my hopes up too high on it," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It would have been kind of nice to split today."
The Orioles took a 3-2 lead in the sixth when Jonathan Schoop singled off Grant Balfour to score Chris Davis.
Balfour then started the seventh and walked the leadoff batter, Steve Pearce. Adam Jones followed with a single to chase Balfour in favor of Joel Peralta, who promptly surrendered an RBI double to put the Orioles up, 4-2.
The Rays took a 1-0 lead in the first on Evan Longoria's RBI single to right off Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen. But the tone for the game was set for the Rays early, and it wasn't the kind of tone they wanted to set. Twice in the first two innings the Rays had runs erased when runners got thrown out at the plate.
In the first, Logan Forsythe grounded out and Desmond Jennings tried to score from third, but the first baseman, Pearce, threw a strike to Caleb Joseph, and the Orioles' catcher tagged out Jennings for the second out of the inning.
Jones then threw out Ryan Hanigan at home for the third out of the second inning after Jennings singled through the middle.
Alex Cobb started for the Rays and tossed three scoreless innings before he allowed a two-out, two-run single to Joseph in the fourth that put the Orioles up, 2-1.
"Once you get two outs you have to be able to close the door," Cobb said. "But once again, they executed."
The fourth inning proved to be Cobb's curtain call as he needed 33 pitches to get out of the inning.
"We just did the same thing -- opportunity, opportunity, opportunity, nothing happens," Maddon said. "And they get two outs and a little ball in front of the center fielder and they're on top. It's the same refrain."
Longoria's RBI double in the fifth tied the score at 2, leaving Cobb with a no-decision.
The Rays' snakebit ways continued in the sixth when they loaded the bases with one out. But instead of taking the lead, they managed to make their third out of the game at home when James Loney was forced at the plate for the second out of the inning. Ben Zobrist then flew out to deep left to end the threat.
"Inability to score runs, runners in scoring position," Maddon said. "Runners were out there, great at-bats to get them out there. Guys get out there. We just have had a hard time finishing that play off. Bases loaded has not been a good play for us either. Explanation? I don't have one. It's just called baseball. That's the way it is this year. Probably next year we'll be the best in all of baseball."
Tuesday night, the Rays and Orioles appeared to be two teams headed in opposite directions.
"I think you can make that point that we're not playing to the top of our game," Cobb said. "When teams are having seasons like the Orioles are having, those situations go in their favor. We can look at it both ways.
"I kind of felt facing this Orioles team and seeing the way things are going for them, almost the way I felt when I was facing the Red Sox last year. Just the quality of the at-bats one-through-nine, and making situations into their favor and not sitting back and letting things happen. They're going out and making things happen. Maybe we aren't on top of our game right now, but they're definitely the aggressors right now."
In essence, a gap?
"Yeah, there might be a little gap right there," Cobb said. "And there's a gap in the standings also."
The Rays are now 12 games behind the first-place Orioles in the standings with 30 games to play, and they aren't making any progress in the American League Wild Card race, either.
"It's been really awkward," Maddon said. "We don't have much time to make it better, but we still have to try and make it better."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter spoke from one living at the other end of the spectrum.
"That was a grind out win," Showalter said. "It was a slow-paced [game] and you've really got to maintain your concentration, because you know there's going to be a fine margin for error there."