BALTIMORE -- For the first time in more than a week, the Baltimore Orioles bullpen showed its flaws.
Right-hander Evan Meek and left-hander Brian Matusz combined to give up nine runs--including seven in a decisive sixth inning--and the Orioles set a new season-high in runs allowed in a 12-7 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in the series finale Sunday afternoon at Camden Yards.
Previously, Orioles relievers had allowed only one earned run in 30 innings since June 21.
The Orioles (42-39) have won just two of their last seven home series, but despite dropping three of four to the worst team in the American League, they remain just 1 1/2 games behind the division-leading Toronto Blue Jays.
But they didn't look like contenders Sunday.
In the sixth inning, following a solo home run by No. 9 hitter Kevin Kiermaier off of Meek (0-3) to tie the game, Rays slugger Matt Joyce's two-out single snapped Tampa Bay's 0-for-17 stretch with runners in scoring position and gave them a 5-4 lead.
And then the floodgates opened.
Matusz allowed consecutive RBI doubles to first baseman James Loney and designated hitter Brandon Guyer before surrendering a two-run homer to left fielder Logan Forsythe.
By the time the Orioles got the third out, the Rays had scored seven runs in an inning for the first time this season, silencing the announced crowd of 32,665. Tampa Bay's seven hits in the inning were also a high mark this year.
Joyce added a two-run home run in the seventh--his second of the game and career-high fifth hit of the afternoon--to make Sunday the Orioles' worst pitching performance of the year.
The Rays (35-49) entered the game hitting just .231 with runners in scoring position and went 5-for-13 on the afternoon.
The Orioles scored their most runs since an 8-0 win over the New York Yankees on June 22, but seven runs and 13 hits Sunday weren't enough to overcome the bullpen's struggles.
After falling behind, 2-0, the Orioles scored their first run in the third when Steve Pearce's single scored right fielder Nick Markakis.
Then, Manny Machado's two-run homer in the fourth inning put the Orioles ahead, 3-2. The third baseman has reached safely in the last eight games and has a home run in three of the last four.
Ryan Flaherty, who came into the game as a defensive replacement in the eighth, added a three-run home run in the ninth. But the Orioles' rally ended when Caleb Joseph struck out swinging to end the game with two runners on base.
The Orioles had several opportunities to blow the game open in their favor but went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position. They put two runners on base for Nelson Cruz in the third inning, but he grounded out on the first pitch to end the threat.
That came after Markakis' double into the left-center-field gap that nearly scored Nick Hundley from first base, but the catcher was easily thrown out at home plate for the second out.
The third-inning hit made Markakis the eighth player in Orioles history to record at least 100 hits in nine different seasons with the club.
Meanwhile, the Rays wasted no time attacking right-hander Miguel Gonzalez's fastball. After the Orioles starter walked Desmond Jennings to lead off the game, Ben Zobrist laced a 90 mph offering for a double to score the center fielder.
Joyce hit his first home run in the third inning, a solo shot deep into the right-center-field seats. Zobrist followed in the fifth by turning on a four-seamer to tie the game at 3.
In three starts since returning from a strained groin, Gonzalez has allowed 34 base runners and given up 10 runs in 14 2/3 innings. He also had a balk Sunday.
The right-hander was pulled after walking Guyer to load the bases with two outs in the fifth, and Meek got Forsythe to chase on a high cutter to strand all three runners.
But then Meek surrendered the home run to Kiermaier in the sixth, and the Rays offense took command of the game.
Rays right-hander Alex Cobb (3-6) earned the win despite only pitching five innings. He gave up four runs (three earned) and eight hits while striking out three batters.
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