BALTIMORE -- Not being able to get the big hit continued to haunt the Rays on Wednesday night in a gut-wrenching 3-2 walk-off loss to the Orioles in front of 26,076 raucous fans at Camden Yards.
"If we're looking for the Achilles heel in this season, that's it," said Rays manager Joe Maddon of his team's lack of timely hitting. "The close game, unable to score enough to support really good pitching -- we've been getting outstanding pitching since the All-Star break, both starters and relievers.
"That's the game that's pretty much put us where we're at right now. That's typical of why we're several games out of first place right now."
The Rays (77-65) took their second consecutive loss, pushing them three games out of first place in the American League East behind the Orioles and Yankees, who are tied for first. New York also won on Wednesday night.
Rays hitters stranded 11 baserunners, and seven of those were in the last four innings.
"We had a lot of opportunities," B.J. Upton said. "We didn't capitalize on them. And they got theirs and they did."
A microcosm of the Rays' offensive frustration came in the top of the ninth, when they had a chance to take the lead, but failed to do so.
Jeff Keppinger singled off Jim Johnson with one out, and Rich Thompson entered the game to pinch-run. One out later, Evan Longoria stepped to the plate. Thompson took off for second on Johnson's fourth pitch to the slugger, a pitchout, and the speedster just slipped under the tag at second. Longoria swung at a 2-2 fastball and hit a dribbler down the third-base line.
Manny Machado fielded the ball, but the Orioles third baseman did not throw to first, instead holding the ball then turning to catch Thompson rounding too far past third. Thompson was then tagged out in the ensuing rundown play for third out.
"I was watching Machado get the ball, kind of made a hard turn and figured if he didn't throw it, I still could beat him back to the bag," Thompson said. "And if he did [throw to first], I was going to try and score. Then I heard [third-base coach Tom] Foley say, 'Behind you! Behind you!' and I couldn't get back quick enough."
Machado's first thought was to throw out Longoria.
"But then when I came up, I saw I had no chance, so I did a pump-fake and tried to deke the runner," Machado said. "J.J. [Hardy] was behind me."
While Machado made a great play, Orioles manager Buck Showalter suggested Hardy's might have been even more of a heads-up play.
"Not to take anything away from [Machado], but how about J.J. Hardy being there?" Showalter said. "Not many shortstops are there to start with, OK."
Maddon thought Thompson made the right play.
"He's got to do what he did," Maddon said. "If that ball's released at all, he keeps going, Longo's safe, he's safe at home. It's a great play. Their third baseman made a better play, that's it. There's no fault there for me. It was both guys thinking well, and they beat us right there."
Not scoring in the top of the ninth proved costly when the Orioles got something going in the bottom half of the inning.
Machado singled off Kyle Farnsworth to lead off the Orioles' ninth. Robert Andino sacrificed Machado to second, then Nate McLouth singled to right to drive home the winning run and the stadium, which has been silent so long until this season, exploded.
Upton led off the game with his 22nd home run of the season, and his fourth home run in his last three games.
The Orioles quickly answered in the bottom half of the inning when Matt Wieters and Wilson Betemit had RBI singles against Alex Cobb, giving the Orioles a 2-1 advantage.
Ben Francisco tied the score for the Rays with an RBI double off Miguel Gonzalez in the third.
After that, the pitchers took over the game.
Cobb pitched 4 2/3 innings before the Orioles put two on, prompting Maddon to bring in Jake McGee. The hard-throwing left-hander struck out Betemit to end the threat.
McGee's encore in the sixth saw him strike out the side, which led to Wade Davis pitching the seventh and striking out two of the three hitters he faced.
Unfortunately for the Rays, while their pitchers continued to post zeroes, so did their hitters.
"We just have to get more offense somewhere," Maddon said. "That's the part of the game that has not been forthcoming with any kind of consistency. We've gotten better on defense. Pitching's been outstanding. The offense kind of comes and goes a bit. ... Basically a lot of it has to do with our inability to get the big hit when we need it."
The Rays will wrap up their three-game series with the Orioles in a Thursday matinee before moving to New York for a three-game weekend series against the Yankees. With 20 games remaining in the season, every game is now critical for the Rays.
"We have to win tomorrow," Upton said. "We felt like we had to win today, but reality is we have to win tomorrow. We have no choice. If we want to end up where we want to be, we have to win tomorrow and we have to win the series in New York."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.