BALTIMORE - According to the statistics, the Devil Rays still have the sorriest bullpen in baseball, but the Orioles are closing fast.
For the second consecutive night, Tampa Bay benefited from the largesse of a Baltimore relief corps that has set new standards for flammability in the past week. It was merely a bonus that the tying and winning runs in a 5-4, 12-inning Tampa Bay victory were surrendered by Rays castoffs.
A run scored in the ninth off Danys Baez coupled with another in the 12th courtesy of Rob Bell followed an unearned pair on Chad Bradford's watch in the eighth as the Rays once again came from behind to stun reeling Baltimore.
''We obviously missed a lot of opportunities to score more runs, but I loved the perseverance of our group tonight,'' said Rays manager Joe Maddon. ''These are the kind of games we have to learn how to win.''
They certainly have lost plenty like this in the past, but it's the Orioles who are well-versed in this particular script these days. Beginning with the 30-3 massacre the Orioles suffered last week on the day they made Dave Trembley their full-time manager, Baltimore's bullpen has ushered home 53 earned runs in its last 27 innings. The relievers have gone 0-4 in that stretch, blowing five save opportunities as the Orioles' losing streak has ballooned to eight.
While the Rays have gradually shed many of those who have kept their bullpen ERA in the stratosphere all season, from Shawn Camp to Casey Fossum to Ruddy Lugo, the Orioles are stuck with the likes of Baez - and at a much heftier price tag.
The Rays will take whatever help they can get after taking two in a row at Camden Yards to secure their first road series victory since they captured two of three from the Marlins June 8-10. It's only the fourth time this year the Rays have won a series away from Tropicana Field, and they'll shoot for a feat two years in the making tonight with Scott Kazmir on the mound.
They haven't swept a road series since winning three at Cleveland Aug. 12-14, 2005. As for a sweep in Baltimore, you have to go all the way back to the Rays' first season of existence for the last instance - a four-gamer May 15-18, 1998.
It was a good thing the Orioles' bullpen was in play for half the game, as the Rays wasted plenty of opportunities throughout the contest. They stranded a season-high 16 men, including a runner on third base to end the first, third, eighth, ninth and 10th innings.
That kind of output didn't do much to help James Shields, who wasn't at his best but still managed to go eight innings - only the second time he has made it that deep into a start since the end of May.
''To tell you the truth, I was scuffling all day,'' said Shields. ''I didn't really have my good stuff tonight. My fastball command wasn't really there; my off-speed command wasn't really there. It was just one of those nights where I had to battle.''
Baltimore got a pair of runs in the third, on an RBI triple by Brian Roberts and subsequent single by Corey Patterson, and two more in the sixth on the seemingly mandatory Aubrey Huff home run. It was his sixth big fly this season against his longtime team and stood as the difference in the game until a ninth-inning Rays rally sent it to extra innings.
Brendan Harris did the honors off Baez, delivering a single that brought home B.J. Upton for his second run-scoring hit in as many innings. The Rays had a good chance to win it in regulation as they loaded the bases one batter later, but Baez struck out Joel Guzman to preserve the tie.
Still, said catcher Dioner Navarro, ''I think our confidence was really big at that moment. We felt that we could get it done right then.''
After two scoreless innings by Bell, the Rays finally broke through again in the 12th when Guzman led off with an infield single and went to second on Melvin Mora's overthrow. Navarro brought him home immediately with a single off the scoreboard in right field and it was left to Al Reyes to save a victory that went to Grant Balfour after his two scoreless innings of relief.
Reyes made it interesting, putting two runners on base before getting Patterson and Nick Markakis to fly to Carl Crawford in left for his 21st save.
''Everybody just kept nibbling, having good at-bats and trying not to do too much and the next thing you know it was a tie ballgame,'' said Crawford. ''You just have to give the guys credit for battling all night and the bullpen coming in and holding it tight so we were able to get the win.''