Peralta blows save, opens door for O's comeback

Rays hit four homers off starter Norris, but can't complete sweep

Peralta blows save, opens door for O's comeback

ST. PETERSBURG -- O Jake McGee, where art thou?

With both halves of the lockdown "Jake and The Box" bullpen duo -- McGee and Brad Boxberger -- unavailable after having pitched three straight days, Nelson Cruz shredded the back end of the Tampa Bay bullpen as the Orioles took Sunday's series finale, 7-5, in 11 innings at Tropicana Field.

"[It's] in a long and illustrious line," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We've lost a lot of games like this this year."

Joel Peralta surrendered a two-run, ninth-inning lead when he allowed a three-run triple to Cruz, and after the Rays rallied to tie the game against Orioles closer Zach Britton, the Baltimore slugger hit the go-ahead two-run blast to the deepest part of the park in left-center field off long man Cesar Ramos in the 11th.

Ramos was a starter earlier in the season when several Rays starters were out hurt, but he has become the team's default inning-eater, rarely pitching in other situations, and in that role has taken several tough extra-inning losses. By the time he entered the game Sunday, Tampa Bay had just one reliever left available, Kirby Yates.

"I know I'm the long man and I'm out there to eat innings, but at the same time, it's not like I'm built up to throw 50-plus, 80, 100 pitches," Ramos said. "I just go out there and try to pitch as deep as I can, and I just got tired at the end and left a pitch up that I didn't want to leave up."

Cruz drove in all seven runs for the American League East-leading O's, as he also hit a two-run homer off starter Jeremy Hellickson in the sixth inning. His game Sunday equaled his production over the entire season series against Tampa Bay -- in 74 prior at-bats, Cruz had hit just two home runs and driven in seven runs.

Earlier, the Rays had broken out of their own power drought with four home runs off Baltimore starter Bud Norris -- one inside-the-park -- but the late innings provided a telling look at the Rays' bullpen, minus its two most important cogs.

"It was a great game, we ran out of guys, and that's what it came down to," Maddon said.

Short on relievers, the Rays went to Peralta to try to seal the deal in the ninth. But Peralta quickly gave up three straight singles to load the bases with nobody out, and after a strikeout of Delmon Young, the veteran right-hander surrendered a bases-clearing triple to Cruz down the right-field line.

Peralta's blown save prevented the Rays from collecting what would have been their first sweep of any team since July, their first sweep at The Trop since May and their first sweep of a first-place club since April 2013.

The Rays had held the lead since the first inning, when Evan Longoria and James Loney staked them to a 2-0 lead with back-to-back solo shots. Longoria's was an encouraging sign, as he cranked out a 93-mph fastball up-and-in -- a pitch he has struggled to drive this year compared with years past.

In the third inning, David DeJesus turned what looked like a routine, inning-ending fly ball into an inside-the-park homer when center fielder David Lough ran into left fielder Alejandro De Aza's glove arm as he started to make the catch, sending the ball flying away from both of them. DeJesus scored easily, making it a 3-0 game.

After Hellickson surrendered Cruz's 38th long ball in the top of the sixth, cutting Tampa Bay's lead to 3-2, Kevin Kiermaier added an opposite-field homer in the bottom of the inning, skying a fly ball just inside the left-field foul pole. Norris had never allowed four home runs in a game.

"Four homers, of course, wasn't what I drew up," Norris said, "but the team was in the game the whole way and obviously scored late."

Entering the game, the Rays' 100 home runs had them in line for the second-lowest season total in club history, ahead of only the inaugural 1998 Devil Rays' pace. In their previous seven games, Tampa Bay had slugged just .238, and 39 of its 45 hits had been singles. The Rays also had only three home runs in their last 15 contests.

Sunday's unexpected surge had the Rays in position to sweep the Orioles out of St. Pete, but missing its two most reliable pieces, the game got away from them. The Rays' bullpen isn't really the Rays' bullpen without Jake and The Box.

"Our bullpen's been lights-out all year, so I can't really say much about them," Hellickson said. "But it does feel like a lot of our losses came like this, and it's another tough one to swallow."

David Adler is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.