BALTIMORE—For years, Oriole fans have waited for a crucial mid-September series, and while Camden Yards wasn’t quite full, the 24,835 who were present for the first game of the four-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays were loud and enthusiastic.
They went home disappointed when Luke Raley homered in the top of the seventh inning to give the Rays the first game, 4-3, on Thursday night.
The Orioles have lost three straight, their longest losing streak since they lost four straight from June 27th-July 1st.
Tampa Bay (91-57) trails the Orioles (91-55) by a game in the American League East, their narrowest lead since July 22nd during the last Orioles-Rays series at Tampa Bay.
The Orioles’ magic number for a playoff berth remains at four.
Oriole starter Kyle Bradish, who had allowed two runs in six innings in four of his last five starts, gave up four runs on seven hits in seven innings. He struck out five and didn’t walk a batter.
It was the first loss for Bradish (11-6) since July 26th.
“They’re right below us, but we’re still ahead of them,” Bradish said. “Take it like it’s another outing, don’t get caught up in the moment of it.”
Bradish allowed three runs in the third. Raley led off with a grounder off third baseman Jordan Westburg’s glove, a ball that could have been called an error but was ruled a base hit. With one out, Yandy Diaz and Raley scored on Brandon Lowe’s single to right when Aaron Hicks hesitated before he threw home.
Diaz and Lowe scored on Randy Arozarena’s triple, and Tampa Bay led, 3-1.
Ryan O’Hearn led off the second against Tampa Bay starter Aaron Civale and hit his 13th home run to right.
Gunnar Henderson led off the fourth with his 26th home run, cutting Tampa Bay’s lead to 3-2.
The Orioles tied it at 3 in the bottom of the fifth. Cedric Mullins led off with his second bunt base hit of the season. Hicks walked, and Jordan Westburg reached when Civali and catcher Christian Bethancourt allowed his popped-up bunt to fall.
With the bases loaded, Adam Frazier bounced into a force play with Mullins scoring. Adley Rutschman hit into a double play, and it was 3-3 after five.
‘It was a really good baseball game, well played on both sides, good defense,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We had an opportunity there in the fifth. That was a big part of the game there. Bases loaded, nobody out, and we only get one there.”
Raley homered with two outs in the seventh.
“Threw a bad pitch to Raley right there,” Bradish said. “Got to be better than that, know who’s on deck.”
Colin Poche (12-3) relieved Civale after five, and he pitched a spotless sixth. Shawn Armstrong, Robert Stephenson and Pete Fairbanks didn’t allow a runner, and Fairbanks collected his 24th save.
“Their bullpen doesn’t give up many runs, and they haven’t for a while. We had nothing going once we got Civale out of the game,” Hyde said.
The Orioles struck out 15 times. Anthony Santander struck out four times.
“Another day at the ballpark,” Henderson said. “We’ve started off a series with a loss before. We’re going to go out there and continue to play hard. We put ourselves in a good position to win a game.
“This is obviously a big game just because of the series. We’ve got to treat it the same and not go out and play pressed or anything. Just got to go out there and play our game. That’s what we’ve been doing all year.”
Henderson and his teammates are closely monitoring the standings.
“We’re all looking at it. Who wouldn’t be at this point in the season?” Henderson said.
Heston Kjerstad struck out against Stephenson, leading off the eighth, in his major league debut.
With Harold Ramirez on first and two outs in the top of the second. Mullins ran, dove and caught Taylor Walls’ line drive, saving a run.
“Cedric being Cedric in center field,” Hyde said. “He’s been doing that all year. He’s been doing that for a few years. He plays a great center field.”
Notes: Adam Jones will officially retire as an Oriole on Friday. Fans are urged to be in their seats by 6:30 p.m. for the pregame ceremony. … The Orioles have promoted longtime executive Greg Bader to executive vice president and chief operating officer. They’ve hired Kery Watson as executive vice president, public affairs, and promoted Lisa Tolson to senior vice president and chief people officer. … Jack Flaherty (8-8, 4.98) and Zach Eflin (14-8, 3.53) are scheduled to start Friday. The game will be shown exclusively on Apple TV+. … The Orioles’ game against Boston on September 30th will be shown on FOX. Game time will be 7:15 p.m. … Kjerstad is the 50th player used by the Orioles this season.
Minor league update: Designated hitter Anthony Bemboom hit a grand-slam to key an eight-run sixth inning as Triple-A Norfolk beat Memphis, 12-10.
Second baseman Jackson Holliday hit his first Triple-A home run. First baseman Lewin Díaz, centerfielder Colton Cowser and righffielder Josh Lester also homered. It was Diaz’s 17th homer, Cowser’s 16th and Lestoer’s 22nd.
Bruce Zimmermann allowed nine runs on 15 hits in 4 2/3 innings.
Third baseman Max Wagner had three hits and drove in two hits in Double-A Bowie’s 8-5 loss to Harrisburg.
The loss eliminated Bowie from playoff consideration. Their season ends on Sunday.
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