BALTIMORE — Add this to the week's list of firsts: The Rays had never before lost a game when they were in first place, and three games over .500, this late in a season.
Their brief stay at the top of the American League East, as well as their six-game winning streak, ended with a thud Tuesday, a 7-4 loss to the still division-leading Orioles on a cold night at a nearly empty Camden Yards.
Whether it was the dizzying heights or Monday's momentum-robbing day off, the Rays (14-12) didn't play anything like they had been.
Jason Hammel, like the other starters wondering about the effect of Scott Kazmir's return to the rotation, lasted only into the third, allowing six hits and four walks in his worst performance of the season and shortest outing of his career.
"One hundred percent responsible for this loss," Hammel said.
Evan Longoria got picked off first by catcher Ramon Hernandez in the sixth. Carl Crawford dropped a fly ball as he banged into the leftfield wall. Three relievers walked five more O's for a season-high-matching total of nine.
And after handling top starters such as Roy Halladay, Tim Wakefield and Josh Beckett during their winning streak, the Rays were shut out for six-plus innings by Garrett Olson, who was called up from Triple A for his eighth big-league start. Their four runs, including B.J. Upton's two-run homer, all came after they were down 7-0.
Making their bad night worse, ex-Ray Aubrey Huff hit another homer, making it nine in 23 games against them, 11 in his other 153 as an Oriole.
"We've been very emotional for the last six days, and when you take a day off and you come up here and even though you are in first place, or tied, and you're playing with the other team and I just think we got off to a bad start pitching-wise," manager Joe Maddon said.
Hammel had been pitching well but looked uncomfortable from the start Tuesday, walking the bases loaded in the first and allowing 10 of the 17 batters he faced to reach base while 33 of his 61 pitches were balls.
"To do that today was just kind of a surprise," Maddon said.
Hammel admitted he was off his game, primarily because home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez had a small strike zone for both starters and "I let it get into my head and therefore lost my concentration." He was still mad at himself after the game, using phrases such as "giant step backward," "immature" and "definitely disappointing."
But Hammel also acknowledged that the looming changes with Kazmir's return were an issue, even though he, like Edwin Jackson, is out of options and seems unlikely, barring an unexpected trade, to be affected.
"I know that that's going to happen, and I honestly shouldn't be thinking about it, but I'd be lying if it wasn't in the back of my head," Hammel said.
The situation could be the same tonight for starter Andy Sonnanstine, who appears the most likely to go to make room for Kazmir, though he said it is "absolutely not" an issue.
Maddon knows they all know.
"They know Kaz is coming back, and they can count," he said.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]