Baltimore seemed to have the game in hand from the first inning, when the home team's first five batters all reached on hits and eventually came around to score. The Orioles added another run in the second to build up a six-run lead, but the Rays resolutely whittled away and wound up succeeding in handing Baltimore its 26th loss in its past 31 games.
"Well, the disappointing thing is it's not the first time I've seen it," said manager Dave Trembley, who has presided over two straight September swoons. "I thought you saw the resiliency of our club in the first inning, when they came out, banged the heck out of it and put five on the board. But you could just sense and feel and you could imagine what it's like when you're standing out there and you're walking people and hitting people, giving the lead right back to the opposing club."
The big swing came in the fourth inning, a rally that started with a walk and a hit batsman. Radhames Liz recovered to get a strikeout, but then the Rays (96-62) loaded the bases on a walk and pushed two runs home on a hit and a walk. Shortstop Jason Bartlett pushed one run home with a single, and Liz made an error to make it a 6-4 game.
The final run of the inning scored on a groundout by Akinori Iwamura, and Liz pitched the fifth without any more damage. Tampa Bay caught up for good in the sixth on a two-run triple by Iwamura off reliever Brian Burres. Randor Bierd later walked in two more runs, helping the Orioles (67-91) set a new team standard for longest losing streak this year.
"I'm not giving anything away. I'm out here having fun still, but the outcome is not what we all want," said center fielder Adam Jones, who admitted this is the hardest stretch he's been through in his brief career. "That's the hardest part. We're men out there. We're not looking for someone to pat us on the back when we do wrong. We're grown men."
The Orioles had seen some apparent improvement from Liz in his last two starts, as the rookie completed six innings in back-to-back outings and tossed two straight quality starts for the first time in his career. And he seemed to be adding to that trend Wednesday, when he used the lead to his advantage and handled the Rays for the first four innings.
"The first three innings, he had command of his fastball and used his fastball," said Trembley of Liz, drawing out the blueprint for how the right-handed starter's evening went awry. "He got away from it in the fourth."
"He shouldnt have thought that he had a big lead," added Juan Samuel, who translated for Liz. "He was trying to pitch like it was a very close ballgame, so he got away from his game. That's why he thinks he got in trouble."
Still, Liz can look on his season as one of survival. The Orioles lifted him from the rotation at one point and sent him back down to Triple-A Norfolk, but they called him back after a bizarre succession of injuries. Despite his considerable struggles, Liz will clear the season as one of the favorites to hold down a rotation slot next year out of Spring Training.
Now, he just needs to go home, work on his delivery and report to camp ready to compete.
"He said overall, good experience," Samuel said. "He's learned a lot. He also knows that he needs to make a lot of adjustments and work on the mistakes that he made over the winter to hopefully come back in Spring Training stronger."
Baltimore's offense shot out of the chute on Wednesday night, getting hits from each of the first five batters. Designated hitter Aubrey Huff drove home the first run, and Oscar Salazar followed with another run-scoring single. Left fielder Luke Scott followed with a bases-clearing double but made the first out of the inning by trying to stretch his hit to a triple.
The Orioles were just three games under .500 and 17 games out of first place on Aug. 20, when their late-season odyssey began. Baltimore has dealt with a shortened pitching rotation due to injury and a flatlining offense, a volatile combination that has led to two losing streaks of at least eight games and a precipitous drop in the division standings.
"It's not how you start -- it's how you finish," said Jones. "That's the lasting impression that the fans are getting. You can clearly see that they're leaving in the fifth or sixth inning, and that's not a good feeling for a player."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.