ST. PETERSBURG — Rays reliever Brandon Gomes said other than one pitch Wednesday night, he did everything exactly how he wanted.
But Gomes, one strike away from getting out of the seventh inning in a tie game, didn't get his 0-and-2 fastball in or up quite enough, and Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop made him pay with a two-run homer that proved the difference in the Rays' 4-3 loss in front of 11,282 at Tropicana Field.
"One mistake," Gomes said. "And in this division, that's it. It's a game of inches."
It was the second straight deflating defeat for last-place Tampa Bay (15-19), which battled back to tie it late only to have the first-place Orioles (17-14) go ahead for good in their next at-bat. The Rays again made it interesting in the ninth against closer Tommy Hunter, racking up three hits and a run and putting the tying run 90 feet away, to no avail.
"Garbage can losses, that one was a little more difficult," manager Joe Maddon said. "Because really, it was all set up right."
The Rays did take a significant positive out of Wednesday's game, as left-hander Cesar Ramos delivered his best start of the season, effectively and efficiently going a career-high 52/3 innings on just 72 pitches. "He couldn't have pitched any better," centerfielder Desmond Jennings said. "He was great."
Ramos gave up two runs on three hits, with Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones ripping both pitches he saw from him a combined 846 feet, both off the batter's eye for homers. "The two fastballs I left down the middle to Jones, he definitely didn't miss them," Ramos said.
So when Jones came up with two outs in the sixth, Maddon gave Ramos an early hook, bringing in Gomes.
"Didn't want to keep pressing our luck there," Maddon said.
Ramos was "definitely" disappointed to get pulled but felt good about his outing, keeping his two-seam fastball down and mixing in his changeup to hold an aggressive and potent Orioles lineup in check. Ramos, who threw a career-high 95 pitches in his last start, has a 1.69 ERA over his past five appearances.
"He was really good," Maddon said. "His confidence keeps getting better. He pitched really well enough for us to win, obviously. He's getting better every time out."
The Rays defense, led by shortstop Yunel Escobar, was dazzling, but their margin for error was small thanks to their offense, with the 1-through-5 hitters going 1-for-15. David DeJesus brought Tampa Bay within one on a solo homer in the fifth, and Sean Rodriguez tied it with a pinch-hit RBI single in the sixth. Tampa Bay had runners on the corners with one out in the ninth, but Ben Zobrist and Jennings each lined out to end the game.
The Orioles have now beaten the Rays in all four meetings this season heading into today's series finale.
"We kept battling, fighting," said Jennings, who went 0-for-5. "We fought to get back into the game, we gave ourselves a chance in the end. Just didn't get it done."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.