BALTIMORE — The Rays' hopes of sweeping the first-place Orioles to get back into the American League East race were quickly crushed Monday.
Over and over and over and over and over.
The Orioles mashed five home runs — four off obviously ineffective starter Jake Odorizzi — on their way to a 9-1 victory.
While the Rays talked a good game about the importance of the four-game series — "Must-wins," Ben Zobrist called them — they certainly didn't play one.
In addition to the worst start of Odorizzi's career, they scored only the one run on four hits and, starting in an unusual alignment that had Zobrist in centerfield and Sean Rodriguez at third base, were not crisp in the field, making two errors and several other misplays.
"Not our best effort," manager Joe Maddon said. "They beat us up."
Though the loss dropped the Rays to 64-67 and 11 behind the Orioles with only 31 to play, and in danger, pending late results, of dropping 8½ back in the chase for the second AL wild card, Maddon, of course, remained confident they can make it another September to remember.
"Until the math tells me to give up, I'm not going to," he said. "We just came off a really hard-fought series in Toronto where we didn't lose a game (pending their protest). Now you come in here and you get blown up one night, you just throw it in the trash can and move on. We still have a chance to win the series."
The Rays were leading 1-0 in the third when Odorizzi's struggles with his fastball quickly became the central story line against an Orioles team that scored just four runs in a three-game sweep by the Cubs, as he allowed eight runs on 11 hits.
That included consecutive homers by Nick Markakis (who snapped an 0-for-21) and Steve Pearce in the third, and ex-Ray Delmon Young and J.J. Hardy in the fifth.
Odorizzi became the first pitcher in Rays history to allow two sets of back-to-back homers in a game, though he was more upset with the bigger issue.
"An overall frustrating night," he said. "Not just for me, frustrating that I let the guys down. We need all these games right now. … I didn't give us a good chance to win."
The problem was his fastball, which for some reason was riding across the plate rather than riding to the top of the strike zone. Pitching coach Jim Hickey and fellow starter Alex Cobb noticed it in the third inning, but Odorizzi couldn't quite figure out what he was doing wrong mechanically.
"That fastball has to be elevated where he wants it and you have to get either the popup or the swing through," Maddon said. "The fact that they were squaring it up indicated to me he didn't have that typical life on his fastball."
Kirby Yates relieved in the fifth and gave up a third straight homer, the first time the Rays had done that since 2010.
There was really only one interesting moment after that before the sparse crowd of 15,516: as long as it took the ball to rocket from Evan Longoria's bat to land in centerfielder Adam Jones' glove as he leaped at the wall to rob what would have been a three-run homer, turning it into a double, and almost triple, play.
"Not our night," Maddon said.
Not a lot of nights left.