BALTIMORE — The Rays have done a lot to improve. But two things were clear by the end of a 9-6 loss on a cold Wednesday night: The bullpen is still going to be an issue at times, and they have to do something about ex-Ray Aubrey Huff beating them.
The Rays took a 6-5 lead into the eighth after an up-and-down debut by Matt Garza and good relief work from Gary Glover and Dan Wheeler, but Al Reyes couldn't take it from there.
Reyes, last year's closer moved to a setup role after the signing of Troy Percival, allowed four runs in an ugly 34-pitch eighth inning, reminiscent of the bullpen blowups that have haunted the Rays.
"We have to win those games," manager Joe Maddon said. "There's no question. That is what we weren't able to do in the last two years, and we've got to get beyond that. It's just unfortunate that it happened tonight."
Worse was the way it happened, with Huff getting two of the biggest hits. He hit a two-run homer in the sixth on Garza's final pitch, a misplaced slider, turning the heavy boos — the result of derogatory comments he made about Baltimore during an off-season radio appearance — from the Camden Yards record-low crowd of 10,505 into cheers. Of the 16 homers he has hit for the Orioles, that was the eighth against the Rays.
Huff struck again in the eighth after falling behind 0-and-2 in the count, doubling deep to center when Reyes — who started the inning with a four-pitch walk and gave up a one-out infield single — left a fastball over the plate, knocking in two to put the Orioles ahead to stay.
In 19 games against the Rays, Huff is hitting .366 with eight homers and 18 RBIs. In his other 134 games as an Oriole, he is hitting .269 with eight homers and 58 RBIs.
"It's weird; it's just coincidence, really," he said. "Guys over here are making of fun of me — if we play Tampa, I'd win MVP. & I can't explain it. If I could explain it, I'd try to do it against every team."
Plus, he said, the pitchers he's hitting weren't with the Rays when he was. "It makes no sense," he said. "You could understand if it was guys I played with and I kind of know what they've got. If it was Lance Carter and (Travis) Harper out there and I'm taking them deep, I'm probably pimping them. But it's just a weird coincidence."
Maddon isn't buying it, noting the Rays have tried pitching him different ways.
"He's totally worn us out, absolutely," Maddon said. "I just think he's jacked up about doing it against us more than anything."
Garza, the centerpiece of the Rays' return from the Delmon Young trade, was eager to make his first start but was disappointed in the results, allowing five runs in 51/3 and wasting home runs by Cliff Floyd (a three-run shot in the first) and Carlos Pena (two-run shot in the fifth).
Maddon gave him a lukewarm "okay" for the night, and Garza was tougher on himself, saying: "All I can tell you is I didn't really hold my end of the bargain; I didn't really give my team the best chance I could to win tonight."
Neither did Reyes, who said he was trying to throw Huff a fastball down: "I left it up a little bit and he made a good swing. I felt fine. I just missed my location."
That wasn't all that was off.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.