Rays drop 'frustrating series' to division-rival O's

Pepiot pegged for career-high 9 hits, Tampa Bay suffers 25th 4-game sweep in franchise history

June 11th, 2024

ST. PETERSBURG -- Standing in the home dugout at Tropicana Field a few hours before the Rays’ series opener against the Orioles on Friday, president of baseball operations Erik Neander acknowledged they were feeling some urgency to start playing better and get their season on track.

“We need to go here,” Neander said that afternoon.

But the Rays only went in the wrong direction the past four days as they were swept by the Orioles at Tropicana Field, another disappointing series capped by a 5-2 defeat on Monday night. The Rays (31-35) have lost 13 of their last 19 games, falling to last place in the American League East, a season-high 15 games behind the division-leading Yankees.

It was the third time Tampa Bay has been swept this season but the club’s first four-game sweep since June 17-20, 2001, in Seattle. The Rays had not been swept at home by the Orioles since May 6-8, 2014, and the O’s had never swept a four-game series at Tropicana Field.

“Not good. Not what we needed,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “But we've got to get over it real quick and get ready for the Chicago series. I keep saying we've got to play better baseball. We're capable. We're just not putting it all together quite yet.”

The Rays spent their first 62 games surging and slumping, ultimately settling at .500 with 100 games to go and a big four-game series against Baltimore on deck. This was a chance for them to establish some momentum, to prove they could beat a tough opponent and shrink the gap between club executives’ belief and the reality of where they stand.

But that gap only grew larger in Monday’s series finale.

Orioles leadoff man Gunnar Henderson got to Rays starter Ryan Pepiot on the first pitch of the game, launching his seventh leadoff homer of the season a Statcast-projected 430 feet to center field, but the Rays gained their first (and only) lead of the series in a most unlikely way in the second inning.

After second baseman Jordan Westburg dropped José Caballero’s pop-up down the right field line, three-time All-Star Corbin Burnes served up a two-out, full-count home run to catcher Alex Jackson, who entered the game batting .043 (2-for-46) with 25 strikeouts on the year.

Jackson’s two-run blast put Tampa Bay ahead and sent a surge of energy into the Rays' dugout, full of people painfully aware of Jackson’s significant struggles at the plate all season but equally appreciative of his defensive efforts.

“Unfortunately, not being able to secure the win kind of takes away from it a little bit,” said Jackson, who hadn’t homered in the Majors since Aug. 13, 2021. “But at the same time, it was nice to be able to contribute and put a barrel on the ball and make something happen.”

That lead lasted only two pitches, though. In the third, Orioles catcher James McCann hammered an 0-1 slider from Pepiot out to left-center for a game-tying homer. Burnes and the Baltimore bullpen silenced Tampa Bay’s bats the rest of the way, and the Orioles’ potent bats pulled ahead in the fifth.

With one out and a runner on second, Henderson slapped a grounder to first base that Isaac Paredes -- making his first start of the season at first base -- couldn’t handle.

“I guess it took a funny hop,” Cash said of the play, which was ruled an infield single. “I think that's a play that we're capable of making.”

Pepiot did his part, striking out Westburg with runners on the corners, but the extra out came back to haunt him. Capping an eight-pitch at-bat, Ryan O’Hearn knocked the last of three straight changeups from Pepiot to right field for a two-run double.

“Just overall frustrating to give up four runs when the guys pick me up and not be able to pick them back up,” Pepiot said.

Pepiot ended up with nine strikeouts, no walks and a career-high nine hits allowed in six innings -- though Orioles manager Brandon Hyde called him “one of the better arms we’ve seen all year.”

But the right-hander described his start and the series as a whole using the same word, one that might be the most accurate description of the Rays’ season thus far.


“It's a frustrating series. You never want to get swept. You don't want to get swept at home. And you don't want to get swept by a team that's beating you in the division,” Pepiot said. “Is there urgency? Absolutely. But we show up to the ballpark, we work hard, and things are gonna start rolling our way. We're close. …

“Now, it's time to put it all together. You get a test like that and maybe a kick in the face, and we'll see where it takes us.”