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TB@BAL: Wieters pulls O's closer with two-run homer

BALTIMORE -- As much respect as the Orioles have for Rays ace and reigning American League Cy Young winner David Price, manager Buck Showalter spent the past two days explaining that the tougher test was actually Tampa Bay right-hander Alex Cobb.

Unfortunately for Showalter, Cobb proved him right, holding Baltimore to just three hits in a dominant six-inning outing that presented the latest challenge for an erratic Orioles lineup. On Tuesday, fresh off stranding a season-high 15 runners, the O's fell deeper into their funk with a 7-4 loss to the division-rival Rays that dropped them farther behind in the postseason picture.

As the playoff races heat up with the final month of the regular season looming, the third-place Orioles are scuffling in nearly every facet of the game. Tuesday's defeat -- which also featured a short start from Miguel Gonzalez and four runs allowed by the bullpen -- is the sixth in eight games and puts Baltimore 5 1/2 games behind AL Wild Card-leading Tampa Bay.

"We just need things to go our own way," said manager Buck Showalter, whose club has lost seven of its last eight against Tampa Bay. "We need to make our own breaks."

The Orioles, who stunned the baseball world last season in clinching their first postseason berth -- and winning season -- in 15 years, are 67-58 through 125 games. Last year they were 68-57 at that point and the sense in the clubhouse, despite being eerily quiet following Tuesday's loss, continues to be one of optimism.

"It's not the position we would prefer to find ourselves in after the first two games of the series, that's for sure, but there's still plenty of baseball left for us to make up some ground," said left fielder Nate McLouth, whose nine-pitch strikeout to end the seventh inning was one of several key at-bats, as Baltimore scored just one run after loading the bases with no outs.

"In the sense [that these are divisional games], they definitely are [more magnified], but I think if you look at it like that, it kind of puts more pressure on you, even though they are extremely important games. If you come out tomorrow and say, 'We've got to win tonight's game to make up for last night's game,' I don't think that's the right way to look at it either."

So how will Showalter's club avoid panicking?

"That's a mental toughness thing," Showalter said. "I know a lot of people look at it from afar, but I don't worry about that. We look at it like, we've won two out of four, and tomorrow's the start of something good. You'd be surprised how quickly this season can slow down, and things can turn quickly. So you've got to be prepared to take advantage of that, and we have the people to do it.

"At some point some of the frustration they feel will start getting played out on the field, toward the opposition."

Cobb served only to frustrate them further. After yielding an unearned run in the second inning, Cobb went on to retire 11 of 12, needing just 61 pitches to get through five and cruising until Matt Wieters' leadoff walk in the seventh. J.J. Hardy followed Wieters with a single to center and Ryan Flaherty worked a walk to load the bases, spelling the end of Cobb's night and bringing in Alex Torres

"[Rays manager] Joe [Maddon] just told me when I came in, 'Forget about the runners,'" said Torres, who got second baseman Brian Roberts to bounce into a run-scoring double play on his second pitch. "'Focus on the guy you're going to face right now.' That's what I did. I just focused on Roberts, tried to get a ground-ball double play. ... That's a big opportunity right there."

Roberts' double play, although it pulled Baltimore within a run, left just a runner on first, and Torres followed up with a strikeout of McLouth.

"They brought in that lefty with that really good changeup to come in and do exactly what he did," McLouth said. "And that's why they're such a tough team, because they can make life pretty tough on you."

It was a tough night for the Orioles' pitching staff, starting with Gonzalez, who battled all evening and issued four walks over 5 2/3 innings. The righty was charged with three runs, two earned, on eight hits in the 112-pitch outing.

"That was a tough one," said Gonzalez, who wasn't hit particularly hard but struggled with location. "The first inning was great, and then I just had to battle the other innings. It's tough to pitch against a team that is playing good. They got three infield hits and a couple of broken-bat base hits. That's a tough one to swallow."

Lefty T.J. McFarland, who retired the first five Rays he faced, allowed a two-run double to Matt Joyce in the ninth before making way for struggling closer Jim Johnson. Johnson, who has not converted his past three save opportunities, gave up a two-run single to Wil Myers to allow the Rays to push the lead to five runs.

The Orioles tried to rally in the ninth, with the red-hot Wieters hitting a two-run homer off Rays reliever Wesley Wright. Hardy then worked a walk, prompting Maddon to bring in closer Fernando Rodney, who retired the next three batters to record his 29th save.

"It's good [it's up to five games], because they're good," Maddon said of his club's Wild Card lead over Baltimore. "The Orioles are a really good ballclub, and they're still not going to go away."

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