ST. PETERSBURG -- Two common threads reared their ugly head Friday night, with poor timely hitting and a propensity for allowing home runs packing a 1-2 punch that left a listless Orioles club with a 2-0 series-opening loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field.
Orioles starter Tommy Hunter surrendered a pair of solo homers -- taking sole possession of the Major League lead -- and the offense went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, running its recent drought to 0-for-22 in the process.
"I know I had a lot of chances tonight," said first baseman Mark Reynolds, who went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts as the Orioles left 10 on base. "We just didn't come through, which is very frustrating. I know we've got to get better, I've got to get better in those situations."
With both clubs fighting to catch the American League East-leading Yankees, Friday's loss dropped the Orioles a game behind the Rays, putting Baltimore in third place for the first time since July 17. It is only the second time since June 12 the Orioles haven't been in one of the top two spots in the division.
"We knew runs were going to be at a premium," said Buck Showalter, who recorded his 1,000th career loss on the two-year anniversary of his first game as Orioles manager. "I liked our chances if I knew we were only going to give up two there, but they pitched real well. That's why they're able to do the things they do. They're very deep in their pitching."
It didn't get any easier for the Orioles after they chased starter Matt Moore from the game. Baltimore had a pair of one-out singles off reliever Joel Peralta in the eighth, but Reynolds and pinch-hitter Wilson Betemit struck out to keep Tampa Bay's lead intact and mark the 10th time in 14 games Rays pitchers have recorded at least 10 punchouts.
"When he knows where that fastball is going all the time, head's up, he's going to look at lot like David [Price] does this year," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Moore. "They weren't really seeing him well. They weren't squaring the ball up versus him."
The Rays squared up a pair of balls off Hunter that proved to be the difference. Hunter, who has been optioned to Triple-A Norfolk twice this season, continued to give up home runs at a speedy rate, bringing his total to 26 following Friday's 5 2/3 innings. The 26-year-old righty surrendered a first-pitch homer to B.J. Upton to open the fourth inning -- the 100th home run of Upton's career -- and Desmond Jennings opened the sixth with his eighth homer of the season.
"It [stinks]," said Hunter, who has allowed at least one homer in 15 of 17 starts, and is averaging 2.19 home runs per nine innings. "I don't want to give up home runs. I don't want to do that. I guess you could look at it positive -- I'd much rather give up solo shots than with guys on, but you don't want to give them up in general.
"It was mistakes. The first one was an 0-0 fastball. That's going to happen to me, I guess. The second one was pretty frustrating. I had him set up for exactly what I wanted to happen and I just didn't execute."
He also continued to be plagued with no run support. The Orioles have scored two or fewer runs in 10 of Hunter's last 15 starts, totaling 35 runs over that stretch, 11 of which came in his June 14 start against Pittsburgh. An Orioles offense that looked to be finally on track is struggling again, with the team's last hit with runners in scoring position coming on Nick Markakis' eighth-inning homer on Tuesday night.
"We did a lot of good things to get people out there, but there's two sides to that coin," said Showalter, who watched his club strand the bases loaded in the first inning. "You've got to take advantage of them."
The Orioles threatened again in the sixth when Chris Davis drew a leadoff walk -- putting Moore over 100 pitches -- and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Reynolds' strikeout spelled the end of Moore's night, with reliever Jake McGee taking over with the tying run in scoring position.
"I think tonight I was over thinking a little too much," Reynolds said. "Trying to go along with [Rays catcher Jose] Lobaton back there, trying to figure out what they were trying to do against me. They kept it switched up tonight on me. I didn't really get pitches I was looking for in the count [when] I was hoping to get them."
McGee kept the Orioles scoreless, getting Lew Ford -- who dropped to 1-for-15 in five games since joining Baltimore -- to fly out and Omar Quintanilla on an inning-ending strikeout.
"We've got to do a better job of getting [Hunter] some runs and let him go out there and throw," Reynolds said. "He probably felt like he had to make no mistakes tonight. But it's just one of those nights, and we will come back tomorrow and go at it. We have two games left here, two big ones. We know that, and we will play our tails off trying to get these next two."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.