ST. PETERSBURG — Friday had the makings of another special and record-setting day for Rays left-hander David Price, who racked up 10 strikeouts through six shutout innings against the Orioles.
But it unraveled in a hurry in Price's 31-pitch seventh, as Baltimore scored three runs to steal a 3-2 victory in front of 11,955 at Tropicana Field, dropping the Rays (74-63) to nine games behind the wild-card-leading Red Sox.
"You've got to be solid for the entire time you're out there, and I wasn't," Price said. "So it cost me."
Price, who had allowed just three baserunners through six innings, gave up three hits and issued two walks in the crucial inning, with J.J. Hardy knocking in two with a two-out single on a cutter over the plate.
"He had been carving us up all game," Hardy said of Price. "That pitch, I think it might have been the only ball (Price) threw over the plate all night. He was nasty."
Rays catcher Jose Lobaton said: "It's one pitch; that's the game."
Hardy made sure the lead held up. He made a sharp defensive play at shortstop with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth, racing into the hole before making a one-hop throw that barely beat Brandon Guyer at first.
"It was pretty close," Guyer said. "I probably was out. … Great play."
Price said his stuff was even better than it was Sunday, when he set a Rays record with 14 strikeouts over seven innings against the Blue Jays. His 25 combined strikeouts the past two games are a Rays record and the most of any major-league starter this season in consecutive starts.
"Dominant," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "That's two games in a row that the stuff has been outrageous. Absolutely pitched well enough to win (Friday); we just did not get enough runs. But he pitched really, really well."
It all changed in the seventh. Vladimir Guerrero led off with a single, and with one out, Price walked Mark Reynolds and Robert Andino back to back to load the bases.
Nolan Reimold hit a long fly ball into foul territory in left. Rookie Desmond Jennings raced to catch it, allowing Guerrero to barely score from third, cutting the Rays' lead to 2-1.
"Walks win in the big leagues, and that was the difference in the game (Friday)," Price said.
Price also got bad breaks before Hardy's huge hit. With two outs, a hot-shot grounder by Ryan Adams bounced off first baseman Casey Kotchman to second baseman Ben Zobrist. Zobrist juggled it, and the Orioles' rally stayed alive. "Could have ended the inning," Maddon said. "But did not."
"I just never got a good grip on it," Zobrist said. "It was a tough play, and I just wasn't able to make it."
The Rays, who scored their runs in the first on a two-run double by Evan Longoria, nearly pulled out a walkoff win, loading the bases in the ninth with two outs on to back-to-back walks by Orioles closer Kevin Gregg. But, as they have so often this year, the Rays couldn't come up with the big hit when they needed it, and Hardy's play saved the day for the Orioles.
"They beat us with our own stick. They played great defense, and they pitched a little better than we did," Maddon said. "It was really looking in the mirror (Friday)."