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Bullpen lets Rays down in Opening Day defeat

Tribune staff
Published:   |   Updated: April 3, 2013 at 11:08 AM

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ST. PETERSBURG -

David Price was pitching without his best fastball, and the offense, well, it was puttering along but still found a way to score three times by the end of the sixth inning.

Evan Longoria was making diving plays at third base. Sam Fuld was sliding across the outfield.

The Baltimore Orioles were in town Tuesday for Opening Day at sold-out Tropicana Field, and they found themselves trailing the Rays by a run heading into the seventh, victimized by the Rays' tried-and-true formula of good pitching, solid defense and just enough offense.

“It was a good game up until that moment,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

What followed was very un-Ray-like.

Jake McGee, the first pitcher out of the Rays' shutdown bullpen, got himself in trouble, failed to make one pitch to Adam Jones with two outs and the Orioles were soon on their way to a 7-4 victory in front of 34,078 fans.

“That's the way it happens sometimes,” Longoria said. “Jake did such an incredible job for us last year, and none of the blame rests on his shoulders. A couple of pitches here and there and it's a different story.”

McGee allowed a career-high five runs. Two came on a double to left-center field by Jones on an 0-2 fastball that put the Orioles ahead 4-3. The rest came on a three-run homer to right by Chris Davis.

McGee hadn't allowed more than five runs in any one month during his major-league career. The left-hander held right-handed hitters to an .098 average in 2012, the lowest by a lefty since 1974. Jones, who bats right-handed, was hitless in five career appearances against McGee.

The situation certainly favored McGee, even if the Orioles had two runners on base courtesy of a couple of grounders back through the box.

But Jones hit a 98-mph fastball, the same pitch he swung at and missed to fall behind 0-2.

“It's real tough, especially in a situation like that where we just took the lead and we had the momentum,” McGee said. “I knew I had to make one pitch where I knew I had to be a little more anxious, to just get that pitch done. I just got to realize the situation a little more, because even if I walk Adam Jones right there we'll still have the lead by one.”

McGee missed with a cutter to Davis, who was hitless in three career at-bats against McGee.

“I don't think that's going to be typical at all,” Ben Zobrist said. “It's the first day of the season. He walks off the mound and you tell him forget about it, don't worry about it. He's going to be fine. He's a good pitcher. He just left one pitch over the plate to a good hitter. The bottom line is Adam Jones is a good hitter, too.”

Price, the reigning 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner, retired the first two batters he faced in the first inning then allowed a double to Jones and a homer to left field to Matt Wieters.

Zobrist cut the Orioles' lead in half with a home run in the fourth. The Rays took the lead in the sixth when Kelly Johnson drew a leadoff walk and scored from first on Desmond Jennings double down the left-field line. Fuld moved Jennings to third with a bunt, and Zobrist drove Jennings home with a fly ball to center field.

With Price at 100 pitches, it was time for Maddon to turn the game over to the bullpen, where he expected McGee, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney to finish things off, much like they did in 2012.

“That's how we win games,” Jennings said. “(McGee) was so good last year, when I saw him come in I smiled.

While his pitching line looks horrible — two-thirds of an inning, five runs, four hits and an ERA of 67.50 — McGee was one pitch away from moving the game to Peralta, who led the American League with 37 holds in 2012.

“You can't base the season on one game,” Jennings said. “Our bullpen was lights-out all last year. It's going to be like that. (Tuesday) was just a bad game. Adam Jones 0-2, one pitch, it goes like that. You can't blame anybody for it. Adam Jones is a good hitter.”

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