Garrett Olson gave the O's a solid 6 2/3 innings to lead a 7-4 win in front of a crowd of 11,588 over the Rays at Camden Yards.
Olson "threw a lot of strikes," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He pitched really well. He pitched primarily with his fastball and mixed in a breaking ball and a couple of changeups. But we were swinging and missing and swinging through some of his fastballs."
In victory the Birds claimed outright possession of first place in the AL East while snapping the Rays' winning streak at six and bouncing them back to third place after the Red Sox defeated the Blue Jays.
Jason Hammel started for the Rays and had control problems early, walking the bases full in the first inning before escaping the jam. He wasn't as fortunate in the second when Melvin Mora and Nick Markakis had RBI singles to put the O's up, 2-0.
Ramon Hernandez's RBI double with two outs in the third put the O's up, 3-0, and chased Hammel, who threw 61 pitches, of which only 28 were strikes. For Hammel, Tuesday night's outing marked the first time this season he has been unable to post at least six innings.
"I'm very disappointed in myself because I basically took myself out of the game," Hammel said. "I was affected by the small strike zone -- let it get into my head. And therefore, lost my concentration was worried about something other than pitching, and you saw what happened.
"All the hard work we put in to get to this point, we took a giant step backward. Definitely not happy with what happened. I'm 100 percent responsible for this loss."
The dejected Hammel elaborated further about the Tuesday night strike zone established by home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez.
"I realized that [it was a small strike zone] after Olson's first inning," Hammel said. "A lot of his pitches looked right there. And as a professional pitcher you can't allow that to get to you. It was actually quite immature for me tonight. I realized you still have to throw strikes whether it's a lot of the plate or you have to get the corners. I didn't make the adjustment and that's what cost me."
Maddon didn't have an olive branch to offer Hammel.
"It's tough when you put yourself behind like that," Maddon said. "It kind of got us a little flat early because we're just standing out there absorbing the walks. You just can't do that. He's been pitching so well and then to do that today was just kind of a surprise."
One had to wonder how much the looming decision for the Rays' starting rotation affected Hammel. In the coming days, Rays ace Scott Kazmir will be returning from the disabled list, meaning Hammel, Edwin Jackson, Andy Sonnanstine, or Matt Garza will be bumped from the rotation.
"I know that [the move] is going to happen," Hammel said. "I honestly shouldn't be thinking about it, but I'd be lying [if I said it wasn't] in the back of my head. Try not to think about it. Continue what I've been doing, which was being a successful pitcher and keeping the team in the game.
"I wouldn't call [the coming decision] a distraction. It was just me not having my head in the right spot."
Aubrey Huff's two-run homer led the Orioles' four-run sixth to push the lead to 7-0. The Rays answered with a four-spot in the top of the seventh fueled by B.J. Upton's two-run homer that cut the score to 7-4.
"I do like the way we battled back, we were down 7-0," Maddon said. "There was a good buzz in the dugout. Felt like we had a chance to come back and it just didn't happen."