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BAL@TB: Davis puts O's up early with three-run homer

ST. PETERSBURG -- An Orioles bullpen that carried the team through so many ups and downs in the rotation and lineup last season couldn't carry over that success Wednesday night at Tropicana Field.

Instead the relief corps -- a group largely intact from a year ago -- surrendered six late-game runs to Tampa Bay, with right-handers Luis Ayala, Pedro Strop and Tommy Hunter all playing a part in the Orioles' 8-7 walk-off loss to the Rays.

The defeat, the Orioles first in two games this season, negated another impressive offensive showing from first baseman Chris Davis -- who had four RBIs -- and an all-around offensive effort that saw the O's mount a ninth-inning comeback off Rays closer Fernando Rodney.

"I saw flashbacks of last year, when [it looked like] we were going into extra innings," Davis said after watching Brian Roberts' ninth-inning RBI double off Rodney tie the game at 7.

Instead, Roberts' clutch hit off Rodney -- who converted 48 of 50 saves last year -- went for naught as Hunter gave up a game-winning homer to Matt Joyce to start the bottom of the ninth and cause the Rays' dugout to empty onto the field in celebration.

"It's going to be a fun series," Hunter said of a scrappy Rays team that has a lot of similarities to the Orioles. "It was a situation tonight where I fell behind in the count and they took advantage of it. It was a pitch you'd like to have back. Execute a little better, learn from it and move on."

Hunter, who had a 1-2-3 eighth inning before Joyce drove a 3-1 pitch over the right-field wall, allowed the first walk-off hit of his career as the Orioles lost on a walk-off hit in a regular-season game for the first time since September 23, 2011. But he was hardly the only reliever who struggled with execution.

Tasked to protect a one-run lead in the seventh, Strop was burned by the shift and allowed the Rays to score a trio of runs, one of which came on a wild pitch, in a 25-pitch inning that unraveled quickly.

It started when pinch-hitter Joyce bunted for a single up an open third-base line with the infield shifted over and Kelly Johnson found an open spot in left field to put runners on the corners with a hit.

"We were up by one run and a power hitter like that can just come in and tie the game," Strop said. "I don't know him as a good bunter. It surprised me."

With the pair on, Strop bounced a pitch over catcher Matt Wieters to allow the Rays to tie the game and, one out later, pinch-hitter James Loney doubled in another run. Ben Zobrist followed with an RBI bloop single into center field to add to the lead.

"I was right there," said Strop, who didn't think his time pitching in the World Baseball Classic this spring affected his readiness. "I was making good pitches. If it was something where I was throwing balls and doing stuff I'm not used to doing -- I feel like me. I feel pretty good. I think I was making my pitches. Balls were just finding holes."

And they were finding them courtesy of the shift, which changed the start of the inning and the complexion of the game, giving Tampa Bay its second consecutive multi-run frame.

"I'll let the guy who hit the home run to end the game bunt whenever he wants to, especially with Strop on the mound, who's probably one of our best athletes," manager Buck Showalter said of the failed shift attempt. "You see both sides of it. You see why you don't want him to swing."

Strop -- who struggled in the second half of last season -- was preceded by Ayala, who was tagged with a pair of runs as part of a four-run sixth. After lefty Wei-Yin Chen cruised through five scoreless innings on 65 pitches, a one-out double to Desmond Jennings and Zobrist's two-out RBI single prompted Showalter to go with Ayala. Evan Longoria singled and Ayala then proceeded to serve up a three-run homer to Shelley Duncan to tie the game at 4.

Both Strop and Ayala entered the game with leads, with Nate McLouth's RBI single in the seventh giving the Orioles their first RBI with less than two outs and by a guy other than Davis.

"We needed one more [run], and some nights you've got to figure out a way," Showalter said. "We came real close and I'm proud of the way our offense kept battling back. We'll be in real good shape if we can keep those two things going."

Davis, fresh off a three-run homer as part of a five-run inning in Tuesday's win, kept his hot streak going again early. After a pair of two-out singles from Nick Markakis and Adam Jones, Davis sent Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson's pitch into the left-field seats to stake the Orioles to a three-run lead in the first inning. But, much like David Price the night prior, Hellickson didn't fold after a first-inning homer and lasted 6 1/3 innings, allowing five runs on eight hits and a walk, before Rays manager Joe Maddon dipped into his bullpen.

Davis -- who tied a career high with four hits -- gave the Orioles another two-out RBI in the sixth, driving in Manny Machado, who hit a leadoff double down the right-field line. Davis doubled and scored in the eighth on Wieters' two-out hit, giving the Orioles 13 of their 14 runs this season with two outs.

So, do the Rays plan on pitching to Davis in Thursday's series finale?

"No, not at all," Maddon said. "Not at all. We're just going to roll it up there. … Listen, he's on everything right now, they all look good. Markakis looks good, Jones looks good, [Davis] looks good, Roberts looks good. They've got a bunch of guys looking good right now. They're no fun right now."

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