BALTIMORE -- J.J. Hardy's RBI single in the seventh turned out to be the game-winner, but the Rays' sloppy play had already set the tone for their 5-4 loss to the Orioles Thursday night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
"When we score four runs we normally have a pretty good chance of winning that game," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We normally aren't that benevolent."
The Rays (65-69) lost three of four while in Baltimore to finish their road trip with a 3-4 mark. When the Rays arrived in Baltimore, they trailed the American League East-leading Orioles by 10 games. They will begin Friday night's action 12 back with 28 games left in the season.
The Rays took leads of 2-0 and 4-2 and both times they gave those leads back in the Orioles' next turn at bat thanks largely to less-than-stellar work in the field.
The Rays got off to a quick start when Desmond Jennings doubled off Bud Norris to lead off the game and moved to third on a groundout before scoring on Matt Joyce's sacrifice fly. Evan Longoria added his 17th home run of the season to put the Rays up 2-0.
But the Orioles answered in the bottom half of the inning when Steve Pearce homered off Jeremy Hellickson.
Later in the inning, with runners on first and third, Nelson Cruz took off to steal second. Catcher Jose Molina threw to Yunel Escobar to try to nab Cruz. The Rays shortstop took the throw then fired home to try and get Adam Jones at the plate. The throw beat Jones, but Molina could not hang on, allowing the Orioles to mint a double steal.
"He kind of ran that well, Yuni did, he turned it in time, he gave it up in time, and bang-bang, Jamo wasn't able to hang onto it," Maddon said. "And I thought there was a chance for Jamo to have a tag out at home also."
Longoria's sacrifice fly in the fifth scored Ben Zobrist and James Loney's double to left scored Joyce from first base to put the Rays back up 4-2.
Mimicking the first inning, the Orioles answered in the bottom of the fifth. Jeff Beliveau took over for Hellickson with one out and the bases loaded and got the prescribed ground ball, getting Davis to ground to first. Loney threw to Escobar for the force at second and Escobar threw wild to Beliveau covering at first, giving Escobar his second throwing error of the game. Two runs scored on the play, tying the score at 4.
"I kind of had a late break, but I beat [Davis] to the bag," Beliveau said. "I don't think he's that fast. I beat him there and as soon as I got to the bag, I looked up and [the ball] was about 20 feet over my head.
"You can only hope for the best. You got the one out in there, you can't assume a double play. Would have been nice to get the back end of that and been up two runs still."
Maddon is never one to stray from the positive regarding his team, but he did allow that "we kind of gave that to them."
"That's why we're in the situation we're in," Maddon said. "Beliveau comes in, does a wonderful job, gets the ground ball. And that's a play that we normally do make and should make. And it turns out to be two runs and that really alters the strategy for the rest of the night."
Kirby Yates started the seventh for the Rays and recorded two quick outs before Cruz doubled to left. The Rays elected to walk Davis to bring Hardy to the plate. Davis entered the game hitting just .190. Hardy confessed he was a little bit surprised that Davis was walked.
"But I was just thinking about hitting the ball hard," Hardy said. "Didn't happen but it worked. I try not to let emotions get a hold of me and just hit the ball hard."
The count reached 1-1 when Hardy blooped a single into shallow right. Kevin Kiermaier charged the ball as if he had a chance to make a throw to the plate, but he bobbled the ball and Cruz raced home with the winning run.
"To take three out of four was big," Hardy said. "I think we are playing pretty good ball. I think after that Cubs series [when they got swept] we all just kind of forgot about that and moved forward. We are playing pretty good."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.