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Rays struggle with runners in scoring position against Orioles

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BALTIMORE — The Rays’ 2-1 loss to the Orioles on Wednesday night followed a script similar to the one that played out 24 hours earlier. 

Timely hits eluded their lineup. Their pitcher limited the damage, only to be undone by one rough inning. And at the end of the night, the Rays were left lamenting missed opportunities while tipping their caps to the Orioles’ talented young pitching staff in a quiet postgame clubhouse.

“We all know their pitching’s good. We didn’t execute when we had runners on base,” Rays catcher Christian Bethancourt said. “It happened last night, and hopefully it’s better in the next series.”

Dropping Wednesday’s rubber match after Tuesday’s 4-2 loss led to the Rays’ third series defeat of the season, as they previously dropped sets against the Blue Jays (April 14-16) and Astros (April 24-26). It was also only the third time this year that Tampa Bay (29-9) lost back-to-back games.

The Rays pitched well against the Orioles, holding them to six runs in the three-game series. But Baltimore outpitched Tampa Bay, especially in key situations with runners on base. The Rays recorded just one hit in 20 at-bats with runners in scoring position over the last three nights: Wander Franco’s eighth-inning RBI single in the series finale, which scored Yandy Díaz from second base.

The way the Rays have started this season, averaging more than six runs per game while leading the Majors in most offensive statistics, big nights at the plate have become the expectation, not the exception. But in this series, the Rays — who are hitting .274 with an .811 OPS when batting with runners in scoring position — stranded 22 runners on base.

“Very pleased with what we’re doing offensively. We’re gonna have some quiet nights,” manager Kevin Cash said. “They’ve just kind of come here back-to-back, but would expect that we’ll bounce right back.”

The Rays certainly had their chances in the series finale, which helped boost their confidence as they boarded a train and headed north to New York for seven games in eight days against the Yankees and Mets.

With one out in the first inning, Franco and Brandon Lowe worked consecutive walks against Orioles starter Dean Kremer. But Harold Ramírez lined out to left field, then Luke Raley flied out to left. They put two runners on again in the fourth, this time with one out on consecutive hits by Ramírez and Raley, but Isaac Paredes hit into an inning-ending double play.

“No one on this ballclub should feel bad because we couldn’t get key hits yesterday or today. We’ve still got a long season to go. We’re fine,” Bethancourt siad. “We know what’s going on. The last two games, we couldn’t get it done with runners on base. Hopefully it’s better tomorrow.”

A similar scene unfolded in the fifth. Josh Lowe and Bethancourt led off the inning with back-to-back singles off Kremer, who bounced back by striking out Jose Siri and Díaz before retiring Franco on a 99.7 mph lineout to left.

“You’ve got to credit their pitching. They’re making big, big pitches, for sure,” Cash said. “Kremer was really, really tough, and that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Still, the Rays hung around by keeping the Orioles’ lineup in check most of the night. Opener Jalen Beeks pitched two scoreless innings, and bulk-innings righty Yonny Chirinos kept the shutout intact heading into the sixth.

But Chirinos struggled through one bad sequence to start the sixth, allowing six consecutive hitters to reach safely on a single, a double, a walk (with ball four coming on a pitch timer violation), a run-scoring fielder’s-choice grounder, an Austin Hays RBI single to left and a walk. 

Chirinos retired the next two hitters to avoid any further damage, but two runs turned out to be enough.

“He limited damage very well. Pitched out of damage,” Cash said of Chirinos, who issued a career-high-tying four walks for the second straight outing while picking up just one strikeout. “Their pitching is very good, as we knew coming in, and they kind of backed it up, certainly tonight.”

The Rays had one last chance in the eighth inning, when Díaz doubled and scored on Franco’s single. Franco then stole second for his 11th steal of the season, putting himself in scoring position for pinch-hitter Randy Arozarena. But the Orioles summoned lefty reliever Danny Coulombe, who struck out Arozarena and Ramírez to end the threat.

“Sometimes we hit, sometimes not,” Ramírez said. “That’s part of the game.”

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