BALTIMORE (AP) - Waiting for Zach Britton to throw strikes made it difficult for the Baltimore Orioles to play spoiler against the surging Tampa Bay Rays.
Britton needed 100 pitches to get through five innings, and the Orioles offered little resistance Monday night in a 5-2 defeat.
After winning three straight starts from Aug. 22 to Sept. 2, Britton seemed poised to end his rookie season with a flourish. But he lasted only five innings last week at Yankee Stadium and was far too wild against the Rays.
Britton (9-10) gave up four runs, five hits and a career-high tying four walks. Only 55 of his 100 pitches were strikes.
``Real frustrating, because I feel like I have kind of got over that hump,' the left-hander said. ``It's about throwing strikes and not putting myself in tough situations by walking people. So if you eliminate those, I am fine.'
Matt Wieters homered for the Orioles, who find themselves in the middle of the AL wild-card chase. Tampa Bay is in hot pursuit of Boston, and Baltimore had a chance to blunt the Rays' charge.
Instead, the Orioles appeared listless - in part because of Britton's struggles, according to manager Buck Showalter.
``Zach had 80 pitches in three innings. That makes it tough,' Showalter said. ``Tonight was a challenge. Deep counts to every hitter, long innings, just got back off a trip ... tonight we couldn't respond as well as we have for most of the season.'
B.J. Upton went 2 for 2 with two walks and set a Tampa Bay record by reaching base nine straight times before striking out in the eighth. He also broke the team mark for career walks with 375.
Ben Zobrist had three hits and three RBIs for the Rays, who have won five in a row and eight of nine to move within three games of Boston for the wild card.
Jeff Niemann (10-7) allowed two runs and six hits in 7 2-3 innings. His previous outing, a defeat against Texas on Sept. 6, was Tampa Bay's lone loss in nine games.
Joel Peralta worked the ninth for his third save.
The victory assured the Rays (82-64) of their fourth consecutive winning season. Only the New York Yankees (19), Red Sox (14) and Philadelphia Phillies (9) have a longer current streak.
But Tampa Bay is looking for more, such as its third playoff appearance in four years.
``There's nothing to complain about right now,' manager Joe Maddon said. ``We've worked ourselves back into a good spot.'
The last-place Orioles, on the other hand, have dropped three straight. Baltimore needs to go 5-11 the rest of the way to avoid the third 100-loss season since the team moved from St. Louis in 1954.
Britton should get at least a couple more starts. Showalter said the rookie has 20 innings left before being shut down for the season.
``It starts and stops with fastball command,' Showalter said. ``That's one of the reasons Tampa is doing a good job with their starters. They have guys with good command of the fastball. Zach didn't have it tonight.'
The Rays went up 3-0 in the third. Brandon Guyer doubled and Upton walked before Zobrist hit a two-run double and scored on a two-out single by Sean Rodriguez.
Upton hit a leadoff double in the fifth and scored on a sacrifice fly by Johnny Damon for a 4-0 lead.
Robert Andino doubled in a run for Baltimore in the bottom half, and Wieters hit his 18th homer in the sixth.
Upton doubled off Jeremy Accardo leading off the seventh and Zobrist delivered an RBI single.
NOTES: The Rays have won 22 straight when scoring at least five runs. ... Tampa Bay purchased the contract of LHP Matt Moore from Triple-A Durham, giving the Rays 32 players on the active roster. ... Baltimore activated RHP Jason Berken (forearm strain) from the 15-day DL. ... Tampa Bay is 6-1 in Baltimore and 3-6 against the Orioles at home. ... The Rays send 12-game winner David Price to the mound Tuesday night against Baltimore's Alfredo Simon, who is 1-0 lifetime in five appearances against Tampa Bay.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved