The Orioles scored five runs in the first three innings, cementing an early lead on the strength of home runs by Jay Payton and Aubrey Huff. And they held that lead until the sixth, when the Rays used a three-run rally to take the edge. Baltimore and Tampa Bay traded runs in the seventh and ninth, and Rocco Baldelli doubled into the left-field corner to win it.
Nick Markakis had homered with two outs in the top half of the last frame to give the Orioles new life, but the Rays extinguished that hope by drawing a one-out walk and sending the winning run scampering home from first on Baldelli's double. Baltimore walked nine batters in all and hit another two with pitches, giving Tampa Bay more chances to hurt it with the bat.
"We're out there scoring our runs," said Markakis of the endgame. "We're struggling a little bit with our pitching. In baseball, it takes pitching, defense and hitting. You don't do all three of those, you know you're going to be in trouble."
"I don't know how many times they scored with two outs and nobody on," added Baltimore manager Dave Trembley, lamenting his team's performance on the mound. "We didn't put enough zeroes on the board after we scored. Offensively, we got some real big hits and some real big performances by a cast of guys. But we didn't get outs when we had to get outs.
"Give Tampa credit. They took advantage of every opportunity that they had. And I'll give our guys credit for not caving in."
Baltimore's Chris Waters started out shaky, walking four consecutive batters in the first inning to push home the Rays' first run. Waters never allowed his team to trail, but he couldn't work his way out of a fifth-inning jam. Tampa Bay (83-51) pushed within two runs in the fifth, and Carlos Pena drilled a two-run double and scored on a double play in the sixth.
Waters was charged with five runs, and he's only completed five innings in three of his first six starts. The southpaw said he didn't lose his mechanics during the four straight walks as much as he lost his focus.
"It's more that I let the situation dictate what I was doing instead of staying within my realm. I was just walking guys and trying to pick," he said. "I was trying to hit the corners instead of going right after them with a two- or three-run lead."
Baltimore (63-72) wouldn't let the early lead stand, though, using a sacrifice fly to shallow center field to knot the game. Right-hander Dennis Sarfate got two quick outs in the seventh, but then he gave up a hit and walked a batter. The Orioles turned to Alberto Castillo, who walked the bases loaded and hit Baldelli to send home a crucial run.
The Rays worked through an uneventful eighth inning and got two strikeouts in the ninth, closing within one out of ending the game before Markakis homered off Dan Wheeler into the furthest reaches of the right-field seating section. Pena drew a walk off Rocky Cherry with one out in the bottom half, and Baldelli doubled down the third-base line to end the game.
"I was looking for a good pitch to hit and he left me one middle in," Markakis said of Wheeler. "I went back and looked at the film. He wanted the pitch away, and I hit a mistake. It wound up being a big mistake."
All five of Baltimore's pitchers walked at least one batter, and three of those walks converted directly into runs. Perhaps more importantly, the nine walks allowed the Rays to turn their lineup over again and again, much to Trembley's chagrin. And in the aftermath, the manager said that the walks, without question, turned out to be the difference in the game.
"Two outs and nobody on, and two balls and no strikes and we walk four guys in a row. I've never seen that," Trembley said. "You would hope that everybody would get it out of their system and sooner or later, it would turn to our favor."
The Orioles and Rays almost made baseball history in the third inning with the sport's first instant replay review. Markakis hit a ball to deep right field, and a fan appeared to reach over the wall to catch it. First-base umpire Jeff Kellogg correctly judged it a ground-rule double without needing assistance, and Huff crushed a three-run homer moments later.
Kellogg, the crew chief of Saturday's game, wasn't available for comment. Trembley had gone out on the field to seek an explanation on the play, but he said after the game that it didn't really warrant an instant replay.
"[They] told me it was fan interference," said Trembley. "And it didn't go over the yellow line."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.