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Rays Rally Past O's, Still Wait to Clinch

Rays 11, Orioles 6

Orioles shortstop Juan Castro catches the ball as the Rays' Akinori Iwamura of Japan slides safely into second for a stolen base.
Orioles shortstop Juan Castro catches the ball as the Rays' Akinori Iwamura of Japan slides safely into second for a stolen base. (Rob Carr - AP)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 25, 2008; Page E08

BALTIMORE, Sept. 24 -- The Baltimore Orioles reached another low Wednesday night, falling, 11-6, to the Tampa Bay Rays for a season-worst ninth consecutive loss, a defeat that came after frittering away a six-run lead.

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For the second consecutive game, the Orioles -- and a crowd of 13,632 -- watched helplessly as the playoff-bound Rays rallied from a deficit to inch closer to the franchise's first division title. This time, the big hit came from leadoff hitter Akinori Iwamura, whose two-run triple down the right field line off reliever Brian Burres in the sixth inning put the Rays ahead for good.

"The disappointing thing is it's not the first time I've seen it," Orioles Manager Dave Trembley said of his team's last meltdown.

Tampa Bay closed it out in the eighth when Orioles reliever Randor Bierd walked a pair of inherited runners with the bases loaded before yielding a two-run double to Dioner Navarro. By then, the ballpark was populated by mostly Rays fans, who were hoping to celebrate a division championship.

"When you jump out 6-0 you'd like to think that you're going to win," Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts said. "It could be discouraging but it's just that time of year where you fight out the last week."

The victory sliced the Rays' magic number to one to clinch the American League East title.

Perhaps the only positive for the Orioles took place in another ballpark, Fenway, where a victory by the Boston Red Sox earlier in the evening spared Baltimore the additional indignity of hosting another team's champagne celebration.

Nevertheless, the Orioles continued on their path to perhaps match the most miserable September in franchise history. If Baltimore fails to win in its season-ending three-game set against the Toronto Blue Jays, this year's team would join the 2002 squad with just four September victories.

With the loss Wednesday night, the Orioles were swept in a four-game series for the first time this season. And after splitting the first six games of the season series against the Rays, the defeat gave the Orioles 12 consecutive losses to the onetime laughingstocks. Baltimore finished the season 3-15 against Tampa Bay.

Even before the Orioles took the field, Trembley wondered about his team's late-season disintegration.

"I think we've probably got to a point where there's only so much you can give and guys have given everything they've got or had and it's hard to make do," Trembley said.

Even though he painted a gloomy picture, the Orioles showed some life early, blitzing Rays starter Edwin Jackson to take a 5-0 lead in the first inning.

Baltimore's offense appeared formidable for the first time in days, banging out six consecutive hits, a stretch ended by Luke Scott's three-run double. Scott paid for being greedy on the play, getting thrown out while stretching for a triple, perhaps the only quibble about the explosive first inning. Nick Markakis added a run-scoring single in the second inning, pushing the Orioles' lead to 6-0.

But the Rays displayed their playoff pedigree in the fourth, rallying to make it a game again.

Orioles starter Radhamés Liz gave Tampa Bay the ingredients to start the inning with a five-run rally, walking Carlos Peña to start the inning before hitting Evan Longoria with a pitch. The rally was helped when Jason Bartlett hit a liner off Liz's leg. But after the pitcher scrambled to his right to retrieve the ball, he bounced a desperation throw past Ramón Hernández while trying to retire Navarro at the plate. The error allowed Gabe Gross to score as well.

And with that the comeback was on, leaving the rest of the Orioles to stand and watch.

"Miserable," outfielder Adam Jones said. "The pace slowed down. You get flat-footed, it's getting cold. It's not fun, basically."

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