BY: John Mamola

J.J. Hardy’s RBI single in the bottom of the seventh inning was the difference as the Tampa Bay Rays could not hold onto a couple of different leads and fall 5-4 in Baltimore on Thursday night.  The Rays wrapped up a seven game road trip winning only three games as their playoff hopes continue to fade away in 2014.

Jeremy Hellickson has been red hot since his return to the rotation with 22 strikeouts and a 2.22 ERA in his last four starts.  Hellickson received the early run support he would need against the first place Orioles as Matt Joyce recorded the first Rays run with a sacrifice fly scoring Ben Zobrist to make it 1-0 Rays.  Evan Longoria added to the lead in his first at bat of the evening with a solo home run to left putting the Rays up a deuce. 

Hellickson couldn’t hold the lead however as the Oriole tied it on a Steve Pearce solo home run and an stolen base at home plate by Adam Jones.  Jones scored as Jose Molina attempted to throw out Nelson Cruz at second base, but Jones broke for home as the throw was wide back home by Yunel Escobar tying the game at two.

The Rays captain answered the call in the fifth inning as Longoria put Tampa Bay back in front with a sacrifice fly of his own to make it 3-2 Rays.  James Loney drove in Matt Joyce in the next at bat as the Tampa native raced from first to home scoring the run and putting the Rays up 4-2. 

Hellickson once again could not hold the lead in the bottom half of the fifth as he loaded the bases forcing Joe Maddon to remove him from the game for lefty Jeff Beliveau who faced slugger Chris Davis.  Davis hit a ball that was a sure fire inning ending double play, but Yunel Escobar threw the ball into the Orioles dugout on the relay back to first forcing in two runs and tying the game at four a piece.

Escobar was credited with two errors in a game for the first time since August 21, 2010.

Kirby Yates relieved Beliveau in the seventh inning but ran into trouble after getting the first two outs of the inning.  Nelson Cruz’ two out double started things in the stretch inning and the Rays elected to intentionally Chris Davis setting things up for Hardy who delivered in the clutch with an RBI single to right putting Baltimore up for good at 5-4.

Kirby Miller gets the loss for Tampa as Andrew Miller gets the win for Baltimore.  Zach Britton sealed his 29th save of the season with a scoreless ninth inning.

The Rays will return home to Tropicana Field for a ten game homestand starting with divisional rival Boston beginning Friday night.  Chris Archer takes the mound for Tampa Bay while Anthony Ranaudo pitches for Boston.  You can catch all the action on WDAE beginning at 6:30pm with the pregame, and a 7:10pm first pitch.