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Davis launches a two-run shot in the ninth

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Orioles arrived in St. Petersburg Sunday night, after some interrupted air travel, and had a brief celebratory toast in their hotel in honor of clinching the organization's first postseason berth in 15 years.

It was small and understated, with the lack of festivities a result of the circumstances: Not only did the O's have to wait for the outcome of the Angels-Rangers nightcap, but they had reached a consensus that their goal remained to win the American League East.

And while Baltimore took the field Monday night controlling its positioning -- and owning home-field advantage in a potential tiebreaker game with the Yankees -- a series-opening 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays could have major implications in an incredibly close AL East race.

The defeat, which snapped a five-game win streak over the Rays, puts the Orioles a full game back of the Yankees -- who pounded the Boston Red Sox -- with just two regular-season games remaining. It also pulled the O's and A's -- who have both clinched postseason berths -- into a tie for the two AL Wild Card spots. Oakland owns the tiebreaker and would host the Wild Card game should the two teams end the season with the same record.

"We don't care [about the Yankees]," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. "We didn't take care of our business. We can't control other people. We lost. That's something we had control over. When it comes to the Yankees, you can't control them, can't control whether they win or lose."

"They're playing home the rest of their games, so you know that's a given," Orioles manager Buck Showalter added of a Yankees club that cruised to a 10-2 win against a Boston lineup missing nearly every regular. "We'll do what we can do."

The Orioles' loss, their first in five games, centered around a three-run seventh inning in which rookie Manny Machado's error paved the way for a trio of unearned runs. The 20-year-old Machado, who has been a defensive whiz since his arrival in August despite moving to a new position, couldn't come up with Evan Longoria's routine grounder to third base to lead off the inning.

"Should have caught it," Machado said. "Took a little side spin on me, ate me up."

What transpired after that was a combination of well-hit balls -- including Chris Gimenez's two-run double to the right-field corner -- and some bad luck, with Sam Fuld's sharp single just bouncing over a leaping Mark Reynolds and Ben Francisco getting just enough on his sacrifice fly to score a hobbled Longoria from third base.

Machado's error was his fourth in his first 49 games, with all three unearned runs coming off lefty starter Wei-Yin Chen, who exited after Gimenez's two-out hit. Chen, who has struggled over the past month, didn't complete seven innings for the seventh time in 10 starts, but the 26-year-old looked crisper than recent outings. Working on extra rest, Chen allowed a solo homer to Ben Zobrist to start the fourth, but retired the next nine until Machado's error.

"It's an adjustment I need to make," Machado said of the tough turf inside the Rays' home dome. "I should have caught more grounders in [batting practice] and gotten used to it more. But it's no excuse."

Down four, the O's saw their rally hopes cut short in the ninth after Chris Davis, who has now homered in five consecutive games, belted a two-run shot off Rays reliever Kyle Farnsworth. Davis' ball, which hit off the fair "C-ring" catwalk at Tropicana Field, prompted Rays manager Joe Maddon to insert closer Fernando Rodney.

Jones and Matt Wieters each singled off Rodney, with Jim Thome striking out for the first out of the inning. Rodney got Reynolds to go down swinging, and pinch-hitter Endy Chavez grounded out to end the game.

Wieters evened the score at 1 in the top of the seventh, putting just enough on Rays starter Alex Cobb's 0-1 offering to clear the shortest wall at Tropicana Field. The game-tying shot, which eclipsed the 315-foot sign in the left-field corner, marked Wieters' 23rd homer of the season.

It was the only run allowed over Cobb's seven innings as the 24-year-old was dominant, needing 57 pitches to get through the first five frames and allowing only two hits. Cobb, who struck out seven, retired the first 10 Orioles he faced before J.J. Hardy's single to left field gave Baltimore its first hit.

"When you get the fastball over and show that you can locate on both sides of the plate, they're going to swing at offspeed pitches in the dirt and outside of the zone," Cobb said. "Once I was able to establish that, I was good to go from there."

Cobb exited in favor of Jake McGee, who worked a scoreless eighth, and Orioles reliever Pedro Strop gave up a run in the bottom of that inning.

Asked if he had any thoughts about removing Chen earlier in the seventh, Showalter said: "Chen's doing well. He deserves a chance there. What did he give up, one earned run? We could talk about the whole 40-man roster stuff this time of year. [Maddon has] got a lot of weapons there and he's going to bring into the game who he wants there, and we'll take our chances."

The Orioles have to hope good fortune is on their side for the remaining two games in New York.

"We are not going to think about it," Machado said. "We are going to go out there -- we still have two games left. And [the Yankees] have two games left. So anything can happen."

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