Orioles left hander Wei-Yin Chen's one critical mistake on Tuesday night came against the most unlikeliest of hitters.
Chen held most of the Tampa Bay Rays lineup in check. The Rays didn't get their first hit off the Orioles starter until two outs in the fourth inning, and they had just two baserunners through the first four frames.
But the Rays had their answer in light-hitting No. 9 hitter Brooks Conrad, a waiver claim a month ago, who had just two hits in his last 27 at-bats and was making his first start in 10 games.
Chen hung Conrad a 1-2 fastball with two outs in the fifth -- the one pitch he wish he had back Tuesday night -- a ball that Conrad took over the left-field stands for a two-run homer, the deciding hit in the Orioles' 3-1 loss to the Rays in front of an announced crowd of 17,592 at Camden Yards.
"That's the big mistake I made today," Chen said through interpreter Tim Lin. "I think that's the first and only mistake I make today. I wanted to throw a slider. I had been able to locate a slider well today. And that was higher [than I wanted] and he hit it well."
Meanwhile, the Orioles (51-46) failed to give Chen any run support, managing just three hits on the night. The Orioles had just one after Adam Jones' solo homer gave them a 1-0 lead in the fourth.
"[He] deserved a better fate," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Wei-Yin was good again. He's been solid. He had good stuff tonight. ... They had a lot of foul balls off Wei-Yin. They also had a couple of walks, and that was the difference in the length of the outing."
Still, Chen pitched well enough to win. He gave the Orioles their seventh straight quality start and it was Chen's third straight quality start, allowing three runs on four hits over 6 2/3 innings with five strikeouts and three walks.
The Orioles still brought the winning run to the plate twice in the ninth inning after Rays closer Fernando Rodney issued back-to-back one-out walks. But Rodney battled back from a 3-0 count to strike out Jones swinging on the last of three straight change-ups, then struck out Matt Wieters on a 2-2 change-up.
"He's tough," Wieters said of Rodney. "That's why he's been successful this year. He's got two pitches. You know you're going to get one of the two. He's got a really good change-up and a fastball in the upper 90s. You've got to pick one and try to sit on it. We just missed him tonight."
Conrad's homer was the eighth that Chen has allowed in his last seven starts after allowing just eight in his first 13 starts.
Two of Chen's three walks ended up scoring. Sam Fuld walked two batters before Conrad's homer and B.J. Upton, who drew a leadoff walk in the sixth, scored after moving to second on a balk call and Jeff Keppinger's opposite-field flare single to right.
The usually composed Chen showed obvious frustration after the balk call -- which came with no outs in the sixth. Second-base umpire Gary Darling made the call after Chen subtly wiped his left hand on his pants while on the rubber, prompting Chen to throw his hands in the air and yell in frustration.
"To be honest with you I have no idea," Chen said. "I have a standard routine when I was on the mound and I do the same routine every time. After the game I went back to the video room and I keep checking. I watched it [over and over]. I couldn't get it and to be honest with you I don't understand that."
Said Showalter: "Three guys saw it and one guy just over-umpired it and called it a balk."
The Orioles managed just one run and three hits off Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson through 6 1/3 innings. Jones hit his 23rd homer of the season -- just two homers shy of his career high -- in the fourth inning to break open a scoreless game. Fifteen of Jones' homers have either given the Orioles the lead (12) or tied the game (3).
Nick Markakis' one-out double in the sixth, which hit off the top of the right-field scoreboard, was the Orioles' only hit after Jones' homer and Markakis was stranded at second.
"We had pitches to hit," Jones said. "I mean, Hellickson's good for a reason. We hit balls and some line drives right at guys. It happens. We put ourselves in a great chance in the ninth inning against their closer. You look at the negative, we're looking at the positive.
"We're putting ourselves in the position," he added. "And that's all you can do. We've just got to get that big hit."
Over Chen's last 13 starts, the Orioles have scored three or fewer runs nine times and have scored just 38 total runs in that span. And take away a pair of eight-run games during that stretch and the O's have scored just 12 runs in the other 11 games. That poor run support has contributed to Chen (8-6) winning just one of his last seven starts.
"You'd like to take advantage of them," Showalter said of the quality starts. "We had three hits tonight. And try to give their guy credit. It's not the first time he's pitched real well at this level. It's one of the things they've been pretty consistent with starting-wise. You're going to face good pitchers up here. We've done a good job of scratching across some and have pitching make it matter."
The Rays (50-47) didn't get their first hit off Chen until Keppinger's single with two outs in the fourth and he allowed just two baserunners through his first four innings of work.
After winning five straight and opening the day just 1/2 game behind the Oakland Athletics for the second American League wild-card spot, the Orioles played their first of nine games in nine days on Tuesday.
After the Rays leave town, the Oakland Athletics arrive at Camden Yards this weekend before the Orioles head to the Bronx for a three-game series against the division-leading New York Yankees. After that, they travel to Tampa Bay, completing nine of 13 games against AL East opponents.