Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly said that Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings. He pitched 5 1/3 shutout innings. This version has been updated.
ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. – After a season full of overcoming obstacles and resuscitating baseball in Baltimore – the Orioles’ final record of 93-69 is the exact reverse of last year’s last-place finish — they ended their regular season with a whisper. Baltimore mustered just three hits in a 4-1 loss at Tampa Bay, which means the Orioles’ postseason begins with a one-game wild-card showdown Friday night at Texas.
When the Orioles left Baltimore for their final series of the regular season, Manager Buck Showalter said that one of his team’s main goals was to make sure they hadn’t played their final game at Camden Yards of 2012.
“We still have that opportunity,” Showalter said. “We have that opportunity, OK? It’s like the guy on that first tee that wants a bunch of strokes in handicap. I tell them, ‘They never ask for strokes from me. Play better.’ If we play well Friday night, enough to win a game, it’s in our hands. It’s not someone else controlling it.
“I’m looking at half full,” Showalter added. “We’ve got an opportunity, and it’s there for us in nine innings. It’s there for Texas.”
The one thing the Orioles could control entering their regular-season finale against Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field was ensuring a home playoff game with a win. But Tampa Bay had other ideas before an announced crowd of 17,909 at Tropicana Field.
It’s not the scenario the Orioles would have wanted, not after finishing the regular season with 11 wins in their last 16 games and nearly chasing down the Yankees from their 10-game AL East lead in July. The Yankees, however, rallied to sweep their final series at home against Boston while the Orioles dropped two of three to Tampa. Now, the Orioles face a Rangers team that beat them in five of seven games.
“We would like to be in a little better position, but we’ll take another nine innings to hopefully get back in Camden in front of the fans,” Orioles right fielder Chris Davis said. “Obviously, the timing of the year is different, but we’ve had our share of obstacles all year. We’re going to pick our heads up and go to Texas to try to win one game.”
The Orioles dropped just their second series in their past 12 dating back to when they lost two of three in Arlington on Aug. 20-22, when they were outscored 20-9.
In dropping their final regular-season series in Tampa Bay, the Orioles’ bats fell asleep under the dome roof, scoring just five runs in the three games here at the Trop.
Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson threw 51 / 3 shutout innings, using his changeup to keep the Orioles off balance and hold the Baltimore bats to just one hit and three baserunners.
Rays third baseman Evan Longoria recorded his second career three-homer game of his career, hitting a trio of solo shots, two coming off Orioles starter Chris Tillman, who lost his first start since Aug. 11.
Tillman, who emerged as the Orioles’ most reliable starter down the stretch, yielded just four hits over five innings, but three were homers — most than Tillman allowed in his previous five starts combined.
Adam Jones’ fourth-inning single was the Orioles only hit of the game until J.J. Hardy’s leadoff double in the ninth and Jones plated Baltimore’s only run with a sacrifice fly to score Hardy.
“We’ve got no choice now,” Jones said. “We’ve got to go out there and play the game. The only difference is that everybody in the world is going to be watching, everybody in Indonesia. This is the situation we put ourselves in. We’re happy to be in that situation. We’re just glad for the opportunity.”