O’s give up 2 in 9th, fall to Rays 4-3

ST. PETERSBURG — Carl Crawford drove in two runs with a bases-loaded double in the ninth inning to give the Tampa Bay Rays a 4-3 season-opening victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night.

Adam Jones, Luke Scott and Matt Wieters homered for the Orioles, who were unable to put the game away because of a lack of timely hitting with runners in scoring position.

Evan Longoria homered in the sixth for the Rays, who loaded the bases in the ninth against Baltimore’s new closer, Michael Gonzalez, with a single, double and an intentional walk. Crawford lined a 1-0 pitch into right field, driving in the winning runs before a sellout crowd of 36,973 at Tropicana Field.

That was a tough loss to take. I was very pleased with how Jones (a triple shy of a cycle) and Wieters (2-4 w/ a HR) performed. However, the whole lineup going 1-12 with runners in scoring position kept Tampa Bay in the ballgame and gave them the opportunity to come away victorious. And that 1 hit out of twelve didn’t even drive in a run.

Starting pitcher Kevin Millwood gave up nine hits and allowed two runs over 5 innings pitched. I really liked the way he commanded the location of his pitches and how he got out of a few jams in the third and fifth innings. He escaped the third inning unblemished thanks to Nick Markakis gunning down Dioner Navarro at the plate after Ben Zobrist’s single to right. He struck out five and only gave up one walk. He did struggle in the top of the sixth, failing to record an out while giving up the Longoria homer and then two straight base hits.

But the middle relief was a huge bright spot. Compared to 2009, when Oriole relievers gave up an A.L. worst 314 total runs, things looked much better last night. Matt Albers entered the game for Millwood with runners on first and second and got Pat Burrell to ground into a timely double play. He then proceeded strike out Sean Rodriguez to end the inning.

Relievers Will Ohman and Jim Johnson were rock solid in the seventh and eighth, retiring all five batters they faced on a combined 22 pitches.

Gonzalez came in to try to preserve the one run lead and struck out the first batter he faced. However he then gave up a single and two straight doubles, the second of which drove in the tying and game-winning runs for Tampa Bay.

It was frustrating to have the middle guys do so well in relief only to have Gonzalez blow it like that. It’s still early though, no need to press the panic button. He is a very good pitcher who will save this squad plenty of games in 2010.

Game 2 of the 3 game series is tonight at 7:10 on MASN2

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