BALTIMORE — Right-hander James Shields and the Rays just couldn't finish Thursday.
With a chance to complete a three-game sweep over the Orioles and move into sole possession of second place in the AL East, Shields let the game get away in a five-run fifth that led to a 6-2 loss on a simmering, 100-degree day at Camden Yards. Instead, the Rays (51-48) packed their bags for Anaheim, Calif., trailing the Angels, one of the wild-card co-leaders, by 2 1/2 games.
"It's disappointing," Shields said.
With the game scoreless in the fateful fifth, Shields got ahead 0-and-2 to four of the first six batters he faced, but he gave up three hits, walked two and hit a batter in the Orioles' go-ahead rally.
"It came down to two hits, and walking too many guys," said Shields, who tied a career high with five walks in a six-inning outing. "That's pretty much what it came down to."
It started with Nick Markakis hitting a one-out single, and Shields hit the next batter, J.J. Hardy.
"That was big," Shields said.
Veteran slugger Jim Thome worked an 0-and-2 count into a walk, and Adam Jones hit an 0-and-2 pitch over the plate for a two-run single. Shields got ahead 0-and-2 on Matt Wieters, who is in a 1-for-30 slump, before walking him to load the bases.
Then Shields said Chris Davis "hit a pretty good curveball" to the leftfield wall for a bases-clearing double.
Maddon said it was a bit of a command issue for Shields, who had located so well in his last start against Seattle.
"He's throwing well," Maddon said. "It's just kind of exasperating for him, not being able to put hitters away in those moments, when he's normally able to do so."
But this loss doesn't fall entirely on Shields. The offense, which posted 10 runs in Wednesday's win, came back to earth Thursday, going 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position. The Rays had Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman, who walked four, on the ropes several times, but they couldn't capitalize.
In the first inning, Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton led off the game with walks, but Ben Zobrist hit into a double play, one of four turned by the Orioles. Tampa Bay finally broke through in the seventh, when Ryan Roberts walked, and Carlos Peña and Sam Fuld followed up with back-to-back doubles.
But Orioles reliever Darren O'Day came in to retire three of the next four hitters to thwart any comeback.
"It felt like we had a little momentum there," Fuld said. "We put some good consecutive swings off Tillman, and you just have to give credit to O'Day for coming in and shutting the door."
The Rays did feel good about the momentum they built to start the nine-game road trip, both with their play on the field as well as getting Fuld back from the disabled list (and third basman Evan Longoria starting his rehab assignment Thursday night).
"We knew this was a big series, a win (Thursday) would go a long way," Fuld said. "But, ultimately, it's a series win, and we'll take that."