ST. PETERSBURG — So much for riding winning momentum into this weekend’s important division series against the front-running Yankees.
Yes, the Rays need to play better against the AL East leaders, but they also must continue to beat teams they’re supposed to beat.
Trying to close out a sweep of an Orioles team with the majors’ worst record, the Rays saw their four-game winning streak snapped in an ugly 9-6 loss Wednesday at Tropicana Field.
Closer Jose Alvarado allowed six runs in a wild ninth in which the Rays broke down defensively.
That inning came after the Rays (50-37) were thrown out on the bases four times, including twice trying to score.
The ninth snowballed on Alvarado, who was pulled during the inning to the sound of boos from those remaining of the announced crowd of 21,545.
"The ninth inning got us there quite a bit,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Certainly wasn’t our best game played.”
Alvarado faced nine batters and retired just two. The six runs and five earned runs he allowed were career highs.
“I trust Jose, (pitching coach) Kyle (Snyder), (bullpen coach) Stan (Boroski), everybody involved, myself, to do whatever we can to get him right,” Cash said. "Because he certainly didn’t look the part tonight.”
Alvarado created his own problems with the score tied at 3. He led off the inning with a five-pitch walk to pinch-hitter Anthony Santander, who reached third after a sacrifice bunt and wild pitch.
With the infield playing in, shortstop Willy Adames’ throw home on Pedro Severino’s slow grounder was late, allowing the go-ahead run to score.
That was just the beginning.
Centerfielder Guillermo Heredia failed to make a diving catch on Jonathan Villar’s sinking liner, the ball skipping past for an RBI triple.
Adames threw home again on Trey Mancini’s grounder, but catcher Mike Zunino couldn’t hold on as Villar slid home.
Two batters later, Renato Nunez hit a booming three-run homer to left , a blast that ended up being the decisive blow in the game after the Rays rallied for three off Orioles reliever Richard Bleier.
“I’m coming out to compete in the game,” Alvarado said. “I think the (mistake) for me is the first at bat walk."
The Rays had a shot to take the lead in the bottom of the eighth. Travis d’Arnaud led off with a single, and Kevin Kiermaier pinch-ran, stole second and went to third on a groundout.
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Yandy Diaz then hit a ball in front of the mound that Orioles reliever Mychal Givens, a Plant High alumnus, scooped and intercepted Kiermaier with a diving tag up the third-base line, keeping the score tied.
“That was a really athletic play,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “He’s just an athletic guy, drafted as a shortstop, so we like to have the ball in his hands.”
Rookie Mike Brosseau, recalled from Triple-A Durham earlier in the day, hit his first big-league home run, driving a 0-1 changeup into the first row of seats in left field.
Austin Pruitt gave the Rays five innings in relief of opener Ryne Stanek, who retired the Orioles in order in the first inning.
Pruitt made one mistake, allowing a three-run homer to Orioles third baseman Rio Ruiz in the fourth inning, but also managed to strand the bases loaded in the third inning.
“Take away the home run, he did everything in his power there,” Cash said. "We have some good innings for us, just the ninth inning is probably what a lot of people are going to talk about, which I understand. That was the ballgame. We just couldn’t stop it.”
Rays left-hander Colin Poche threw two perfect innings after that, and recorded five of his six outs by strikeout, including four in succession to end his outing.
The Rays fell short in two other rallies. They had runners at the corners with two outs in the fifth when Tommy Pham attempted to steal second. Heredia was caught in a rundown between third and home when Orioles catcher Chance Sisco bluffed a throw to second.
Then, the Rays were on the verge of a big inning in the sixth when Yandy Diaz’s leadoff single was followed by Avisail Garcia’s RBI single, but Orioles first baseman Chris Davis cut off the throw from right and threw Garcia out at second base.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.