ST. PETERSBURG -- The streak has ended.
The Orioles were victimized by a flurry of sixth-inning extra-base hits -- including the shortest over-the-fence home run this season -- and were defeated by the Rays, 5-4, on Friday night at Tropicana Field.
The Orioles had won 10 straight games, the club’s longest single-season victory streak since 1999, and had not lost since July 2.
“The feeling of losing after winning 10 straight is not the feeling we want,’’ Orioles starting pitcher Tyler Wells said after Baltimore's 10th straight loss at The Trop. “It sucks. It sucks a lot. But I think the guys are going to come back stronger.’’
The Orioles went down in a most unexpected way: Their normally reliable bullpen did not come through. Left-hander Cionel Pérez, who had not allowed an earned run since June 14 and entered with a 0.90 ERA, was summoned to put out the sixth-inning fire. But he ignited the Rays’ offense with a calamitous eight-pitch sequence.
Entering a 2-2 game, Pérez surrendered a go-ahead RBI double to Francisco Mejía. Then, his 1-2 slider to Christian Bethancourt was lifted high into the left-field corner, eluding a leaping attempt by Anthony Santander and scraping off the bottom of the foul pole while falling over a short fence. After a crew chief review, it was ruled a two-run homer, measured at 318 feet by Statcast.
“Cionel Pérez has been money in the bank for us all season,’’ Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “He just left a pitch for Mejía to hit, and the home run was kind of a weird one. We battled to the end. We just had a bad inning on the mound. It just didn’t happen tonight.’’
The Rays’ rally spoiled a two-homer night by third baseman Ramón Urías, who had a fourth-inning solo shot off Luis Patiño, then an eighth-inning two-run homer off left-hander Colin Poche to pull the Orioles within a run.
The Orioles led 2-0 after four innings on homers by Mancini and Urías off Patiño, who hadn’t pitched in a Major League game since April 11 and hadn’t worked at all in 13 days after rehabilitation stints. Wells, who lost for the first time since May 25, was touched for a fourth-inning RBI double by Yu Chang, but he proceeded to retire his next seven batters.
After getting two outs to start the sixth, Wells surrendered a slicing double to right field by Josh Lowe, then a double down the third-base line by Chang that tied the game.
“I threw a pitch way in to Lowe that he got around on, then I threw a pitch down the middle to Chang and he hit it hard,’’ Wells said. “To say I’m disappointed is an understatement. The [overall pitching] results showed up OK, but I felt like I didn’t do my job by keeping us in it, especially in the sixth inning. It’s weighing pretty heavy on me.’’
With the go-ahead run on second, Wells was lifted for Pérez. That’s when the Rays’ fireworks began and the Orioles’ winning streak entered its final countdown.
The Orioles’ clubhouse mood was disappointment, but also resolute determination that the team has proven itself worthy of contender status.
“They don’t call it the AL Beast for nothing,’’ Wells said. “They [the Rays] are a very good team, as is everyone in this division. But we’re right there with them. We’re just as hard to beat. The stretch of the last few weeks has really been an eye-opener for us, especially after the last few years, when I don’t think we’ve had quite the confidence. We’re going to continue to compete and show we belong here.’’
“Chances are you aren’t going to run the table, but it’s how you respond from here,’’ Mancini said. “It sounds super cliche, but we just worry about the next day. We don’t go too big picture. When you start looking too much forward and seeing where you want to be in a couple months, you lose sight of this day, and this team doesn’t do that. We know we’ll be able to wash this and put our best foot forward [Saturday].’’
Or as Urías put it: “Let’s start another one [winning streak] tomorrow.’’