BALTIMORE -- The Rays weathered the first two Orioles home runs Friday night before the third one took them down in a 4-3 loss at Camden Yards with 26,669 in attendance.
With the loss, the Rays fell to second place in the American League East with a record of 20-13, while the Orioles took sole possession of first at 21-12.
Jeremy Hellickson, who started for the Rays, recovered nicely from his previous outing against the Athletics when he did not get out of the fourth inning. Friday night, the right-hander handcuffed Orioles hitters for most of the night before leaving the game with two outs in the seventh and a runner aboard. At that point, the right-hander had allowed just two runs via solo homers by Adam Jones and Nick Markakis.
Even though Hellickson had pitched well, Joe Maddon liked having right-hander Joel Peralta take over for Hellickson to face left-handed hitting Nick Johnson. Left-handers were hitting just .138 against Peralta this season and he'd struck out 12 of the 30 lefties he'd faced. Meanwhile, Johnson entered the game hitting just .122.
"I just liked Joel on Johnson," said Maddon when explaining why he lifted Hellickson. "That was the whole point. If it got to that point, it was going to be Joel on [Johnson]. And then I liked Jake [McGee] on [J.J.] Hardy, Markakis and Jones. That was part of the game plan right there."
Peralta got ahead in the count 1-2 before Johnson fouled one off then took the next two pitches for balls to run the count to full.
"I got ahead in the count like I was supposed to and threw some really good pitches. I felt he was going to swing at it," Peralta said. "He didn't."
Johnson connected on the eighth pitch of the at-bat. Peralta said he tried to throw his fastball down and away, but it caught the middle of the plate, a little bit high. When the ball landed over the wall in right field, Johnson had his first home run of the season and the Orioles had a 4-3 lead.
"I squared it, but I didn't know I got it," Johnson said. "I think the wind blew it out. I put a good swing on it."
A downcast Peralta observed: "That was the game right there."
"What hurts the most is after a guy like Hellickson battles for almost seven innings ... and you're over there, one batter, you blew it," Peralta said. "That's what hurt the most."
While Johnson's home run in fact spelled the end for the Rays, the Rays suffered through another night of missed opportunities on offense, which seemed to be a carryover from their just-completed series against the Yankees.
"The last two nights have been the tale of missed opportunities for us," Maddon lamented.
The Rays most visible failed opportunity came in the fourth with the score tied at 1-1. Elliot Johnson singled with the bases loaded to drive home the Rays' second run, but all of the runners had to freeze initially to see if Markakis would catch the drive in right. [Sean] Rodriguez was on second base and tried to score once the ball hit the wall. The relay throw to the plate arrived before Rodriguez, who unloaded on Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, but Wieters held onto the ball for the second out.
"We didn't run the bases well right there in that situation," Maddon said. "You really, with one out you need to go halfway. With zero you can tag up. And so we messed that up a little bit."
Maddon was talking about Rodriguez at second, who should have gone halfway and waited for the outcome rather than tagging from the beginning.
"When he hit it, the way Markakis was going back after it I thought he was going to catch it," Rodriguez said. "So I started slowly working my way back to the bag. And then kind of took a shuffle off. He went up for the ball. And I actually took a shuffle back. That's what kind of got me caught up. The ball hit off the wall and I'm just thinking I've got to score.
"I can't assume. I have to be halfway there so when the ball hit off the wall I could have scored easy."
Carlos Pena was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to drive home another run in the fourth to put the Rays up 3-1, but clearly the Rays might have broken the game open in the fourth had Rodriguez scored.
The Rays have now lost two in a row and five of their last six.
"We're playing hard," Maddon said. "We're making too many little mistakes that are getting in the way of victory. We have to really curtail the mistakes execution-wise. But otherwise, I'm really pleased with the effort."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.