CLEVELAND — In the basement of Progressive Field, hours before the Orioles would begin a four-game series against the Guardians, a herd of players gathered in the visiting clubhouse training room.

Groans and curse words rang out, not from the treatment but from the scene on the televisions above them. The Rays had come back against the Angels in the ninth, eventually walking it off.

“It didn’t turn out the way we wanted,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said pregame. “We didn’t close it there in the ninth.”

“We” in this case being the Angels, the Orioles’ favorite team of the day. On Friday, it’ll be the Blue Jays, who will travel south to be the next team to face the Rays. In a tight division race, the result of every Rays game matters.

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But so, too, is the case for the Orioles. They control their own fate in the American League East, sitting 1.5 games ahead of Tampa Bay and owning the tiebreaker. Every Orioles win or Rays loss decreases their magic number. On Thursday, the opposite happened. The Rays won and the Orioles fell 5-2 to the Guardians, keeping the magic number at seven.

Five days ago, Grayson Rodriguez took the ball in the biggest start of his career and powered through eight shutout innings. On Thursday, he could muster only five, the Guardians taxing him early. He needed 40 pitches to get through two innings, two at-bats eclipsing the 10-pitch mark. Cleveland fouled it off 37 times, over a third of Rodriguez’s total pitch count.

“Just not attacking like I wanted to,” Rodriguez said. “Obviously wasn’t very efficient, some walks, a lot of of foul balls. I just really needed to do a better job of being in the strike zone and attacking hitters.”

Despite the tiring outing, he gave up only two runs, a deficit that the Orioles should have been able to overcome, especially against a team throwing a bullpen game. The offense wasted early chances — including a bases-loaded situation in the third — but it found footing in eighth.

Heston Kjerstad, pinch hitting for Jordan Westburg, turned the momentum around with a single. He was immediately replaced by Ramón Urías at first. Adley Rutschman hit a double to advance Urías to third, and Anthony Santander grounded out to send in the first run. Ryan O’Hearn provided the tying run with his double.

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“Disappointed in our outs early in the game, we made some quick outs that we normally don’t,” Hyde said. “We didn’t work the count very well. ... We didn’t do anything early offensively to help us out.”

The two runs weren’t enough to protect them against their bullpen. While DL Hall and Jorge López did their jobs, the eighth was a different story. Cionel Pérez loaded the bases, exiting without recording an out. Jacob Webb replaced him, with three Guardians runs scoring in succession.

Mike Baumann eventually had to come in for Webb, the Orioles needing three relievers to get through the inning and five total for the day, a worrisome way to begin a four-game series for a team that hasn’t had a day off since Sept. 7.

“We are in a tough stretch,” Hyde said. “A lot of these guys have thrown more than ever before. Cionel has been absolutely excellent for us this whole second half, just been lights out. For me, he just had an off night and that could have been fatigue. ... These guys, just the way our games have been in the last week, have had a lot of appearances.”

The bullpen was already worked from the Houston series, and the options are limited if the Orioles decide they need a fresh arm for the rest of the weekend — Cole Irvin, Joey Krehbiel, Nick Vespi and Bryan Baker were all optioned less than 15 days ago and are unable to return Friday unless they are replacing an injured player.

danielle.allentuck@thebaltimorebanner.com

Danielle Allentuck covers the Orioles for The Baltimore Banner. She previously reported on the Rockies for the Denver Gazette and general sports assignments for The New York Times as part of its fellowship program. A Maryland native, Danielle grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Ithaca College.

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