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Tampa Bay Rays avoid no-hitter but lose 3-1 to Baltimore Orioles to fall to 0-2

ST. PETERSBURG — Bad enough the Rays were no-hit into the seventh inning Saturday. Were done in by a mistake by one of their inexperienced relievers. Wasted a tremendous start by James Shields. Saw a last-ditch comeback foiled on a leaping catch at the rightfield wall for the final out.

They also lost star third baseman Evan Longoria for at least a week, and potentially several, with a sore, if not strained, left oblique.

And they dropped to 0-2, for the first time since their 101-defeat 2006 season, with a 3-1 loss to the Orioles.

"It's a combination of a bunch of things," Shields said. "Unfortunately, we lost Longo. That's more important than anything. Yeah, it's a loss. So what? Second game of the year. We're not too worried about it."

"We're fine, man," B.J. Upton said. "It's too early to start pressing."

Longoria said he expects to be out no more than a week, but manager Joe Maddon did not rule out a stint on the 15-day disabled list, pending a re-evaluation today. Oblique strains can sideline a player four to six weeks.

"It doesn't feel like it's something that's going to keep me off the field for a long time," Longoria said. "It was just sore, I don't think it's a strain, I don't think it's anything worse than that."

But Maddon said the Rays won't really know until Longoria is examined today: "We're just going to try to be cautious with it and make the right read on it."

Sean Rodriguez will be the primary third baseman in Longoria's absence.

The Rays were blanked through the first six innings by Chris Tillman, the Orioles' 22-year-old right-hander who was removed at that point with his pitch count at 101, and then for two outs into the seventh by reliever Jeremy Accardo before Upton singled hard to center.

The string of zeroes was uncomfortable but certainly not unfamiliar, as the Rays were no-hit twice last season (by Oakland's Dallas Braden and Arizona's Edwin Jackson) and once the year before (Chicago's Mark Buehrle), in addition to several near-misses.

Upton said they weren't thinking about another. "We weren't worried about it," he said. "If it happens, it happens. So what?"

But, Maddon acknowledged, "We always have to."

With that out of the way, there was still a scoreless game to be decided before a Tropicana Field crowd of 22,164.

Shields, seeking to bounce back from a career-worst season, was brilliant through seven shutout innings, allowing three singles and a walk and getting out of whatever trouble he got into.

But a single to the first batter of the eighth and a walk to the third pushed his pitch count to 102, and Maddon decided that was enough.

His next decision was worse, as he ignored Kyle Farnsworth's success against switch-hitter Brian Roberts (1-for-7 with five strikeouts), having not seen how he'd done it, for his preference of having Roberts hit right-handed (only 15 homers in 1,639 plate appearances), and summoned rookie lefty Jake McGee.

"We've always tried to keep Roberts on the right side, and it didn't work (Saturday night)," Maddon said.

McGee has the potential to be a dominant late-inning reliever, but the Rays said all spring they would be cautious about giving him too much too soon. And when he missed trying to go inside with a 1-and-1 fastball in his 10th big-league appearance, the mistake was obvious as the ball landed in the leftfield seats. "He made me pay for it," McGee said.

Having had Upton thrown out at the plate in the seventh, the Rays got their run in the eighth (making it two in two nights), on Manny Ramirez's first hit. They looked like they had a chance for more, at least a tying two-run double, when Ben Zobrist laced Kevin Gregg's pitch to the rightfield wall in the ninth, but Nick Markakis made a running, leaping catch at the wall.

"That's how this thing works," Maddon said. "It's going to go in our favor at some point, too. It's been in their favor the first two nights."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Orioles 3

Rays 1

Tampa Bay Rays avoid no-hitter but lose 3-1 to Baltimore Orioles to fall to 0-2 04/02/11 [Last modified: Sunday, April 3, 2011 12:22am]
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