These are the games the Rays have to win.
Friday’s series opener against the Orioles, a team already anointed the division doormat, marked the first of 26 straight games against AL East competition.
And in a short season, they have to beat Baltimore.
Their 6-3 loss to the lowly Orioles, disappointment delayed by an hour-long rain delay, was their third straight after opening their sprint-to-60-game season winning four of their first five.
“It’s not ideal,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “It’s early. And you can say, ’No, it’s really not that early.’ We’ve got to get rolling here. There’s frustration mounting that we know we’re capable of more, and on both sides of the ball right now we definitely are, but we’ve just got to get back to doing what makes us good.”
Even in full seasons, the Rays had trouble at Camden Yards, entering the night just 15-15 at Oriole Park dating back to 2017. The Orioles averaged 103 losses over that stretch.
But a promising start from left-hander Blake Snell unraveled quickly after a deep fly ball skipped off centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier’s glove and over the fence, the first of back-to-back homers that turned a one-sided game into a head-scratching affair.
After heading into their first road trip of the season riding a four-game winning streak, the Rays (4-4) have opened their trip to Atlanta and Baltimore with three straight losses.
Snell set the tone early, working ahead of hitters — he was a perfect 14-for-14 on first-pitch strikes — and establishing his fastball to set up his off-speed pitches.
He took a 2-0 lead into the fourth. After putting two runners in scoring position two batters into the game, Snell retired nine straight before allowing a leadoff double to Renato Nunez.
That’s when things got weird.
Anthony Santander drove a first-pitch fastball to straight-away center, where Kiermaier gave chase, seemed to misjudge the fence and barely got off his feet as the ball went off the top of his glove and over the wall.
“I take full responsibility for that loss, because if I were to make that catch, it keeps us up 2-0 and Blake was throwing the ball great,” Kiermaier said by text message. “A play I should make (10 times out of 10) didn’t happen, and it was a momentum swing for the Orioles. Very disappointed in myself for allowing that to happen, but I have to try to keep a short memory and forget about it, even though it’s tough, because it’s done and over with.
“I hold myself to a certain standard, especially on the defensive side of the ball,” he added, “and that play just has to be made, plain and simple.”
Snell’s lead vanished there, and then he quickly trailed when Pedro Severino homered to center field on a 2-2 fastball, the first fastball Snell threw the Orioles catcher after four straight off-speed pitches.
“It’s a great at-bat for him and for me, it’s a terrible at bat, because obviously I knew what he was sitting on,” Snell said. “I knew a lot of them were sitting on (the fastball) because of how efficient I was with the fastball and I was pitching with my fastball. It was very frustrating on my end, but I’m going to clean it up. I’m going to get better, and, yeah, I’m gonna get this thing rolling.”
Just like that, Snell was out of the game, frustrated by two balled that sailed out of hitter-friendly Camden Yards.
“You play in Camden Yards the balls gonna go over the fence,” Snell said. “I just don’t like playing here. I’m not gonna lie, I just don’t. So that’s something I have to get better at.”
Tampa Bay took that 2-0 lead on back-to-back first-inning doubles by Willy Adames and Yoshi Tsutsugo, and Hunter Renfroe’s RBI double in the third. Both runs were scored with two outs.
Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe’s leadoff homer in the fifth over Camden Yards’ high fence in right tied game at 3, but the Orioles regained the lead on a Santander RBI single off Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge.
The Orioles (3-3) added another run in the seventh when Ji-Man Choi threw home high on Rio Riuz’s grounder to first with the bases loaded. Choi’s throw forced catcher Mike Zunino to jump, and his tag on Nunez was late.
Choi was charged with a throwing error on the play, the Rays’ second error of the night and their league-high ninth of the season in eight games.
Hanser Alberto’s eighth-inning solo homer off Ryan Thompson gave the Orioles a 6-3 lead.
The Rays put up some big innings in their first homestand of the season, including an eight-run and five-run innings in their home wins over the Braves. But since going on the road, they’ve scored just eight runs in three games.
After Lowe’s leadoff homer in the fifth, the Rays had just one hit the rest of the game. They had four baserunners over their final 15 outs but couldn’t score.
“I hope we’re frustrated, because that was a frustrating game to be a part of,” Cash said. “I’ve got to do a better job, we’ve got to do a better job of the attention to detail. We’re a very good defensive team, and right now we’re not securing the baseball. What made us so special in the past was that we secured it and converted out, and we’re not doing that. We’re capable of better, but everybody in that room knows that. But we’ll get back to doing that here real soon.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.