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Rays

Matusz, Orioles edge punchless Rays

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 04:28 PM
ST. PETERSBURG -

Jeremy Hellickson should have skipped out of the Rays clubhouse early Saturday night, delighted with his day's work and the win that came with such a performance.

One earned run in nearly seven innings. Four hits. Eight strikeouts. What's not to love?

But, he didn't.

The Rays managed only two hits, and a pair of seventh-inning errors led to an unearned run, which, naturally, was the difference in the Baltimore Orioles' 2-1 victory in front of 21,693 at Tropicana Field.

"I feel worse for Hellickson, because he pitched awesome," said third baseman Drew Sutton, whose two-out throwing error allowed the go-ahead run to score in the seventh. "He didn't deserve to get the loss that way."

A little more offense, perhaps, would have helped, though that has been the story this week for the Rays, who have lost four of five games on this six-game homestand and dropped back into a tie for first place with the Orioles.

Take away Friday's five-run, first inning outburst and the Rays have been held to seven runs on the homestand. They are batting .141 in the five games, the lowest average in the major leagues during that stretch.

Saturday was the third time in the past seven games they were held to fewer than five hits. It was the fourth time in the past six games they scored fewer than four runs.

The two hits were a season low and the fewest in a game since mustering only one July 30 at Seattle.

"We've got to do a better job swinging the bats," designated hitter Luke Scott said. "It's been like that the last three weeks, really, really struggling with the bats as a group. No one's really gotten hot. Guys have been just not feeling right. We've all been talking about it as a group. We haven't felt good at the plate."

The team-wide slump magnifies the mistakes on defense. Even one unearned run is enough to trip the Rays.

"You have to be able to outhit you're mistakes," manager Joe Maddon said.

But the mistakes are piling up. The two errors — there was also a catcher's interference on Jose Lobaton that kept the inning alive — gave the Rays 23 in their past 20 games. That's a hard number for a team built on pitching and defense.

"We talk about gold around here all the time and we have not been playing up to our gold standard," Maddon said.

Still, because of Hellickson and the work of the bullpen — most notably Jake McGee and Joel Peralta — the Rays had a chance to win the game in the eighth inning when they loaded the bases with one out. Elliot Johnson reached on an error and Carlos Peña and B.J. Upton drew back-to-back walks.

But Ben Zobrist, who had eight hits in his previous 54 bats and was batting .391 for his career with the bases full, swung at the first pitch and grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. It was only the third time in his career he bounced into a double play with the bases loaded.

Zobrist said he was too aggressive, and Pedro Strop threw a two-seam fastball that tailed further away than Zobrist anticipated.

"I really would have loved to come through for the team. It just didn't happen," Zobrist said.

Two hits and the Rays almost won.

Two errors and they didn't.

"One more hit and we win that game," Zobrist said. "We just didn't do it. We're capable of it. The potential is there. It's just getting over that hump, you know, that little hump."

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