The Baltimore Orioles are attempting to become the first major-league team to rebound from a 15½-game deficit to reach the playoffs.
Tony Saunders pitched seven innings of four-hit ball and Bobby Smith snapped an eighth-inning tie with a sacrifice fly as the Devil Rays ended Baltimore's three-game winning streak with a 4-2 victory.
Bubba Trammell homered for Tampa Bay, which became only the second expansion team in major-league history to win a season series from a reigning division or league champion. The Devil Rays went 7-5 against the defending AL East titlists, including 5-1 in Baltimore.
"We're not embarrassed by anyone," Tampa Bay catcher Mike DiFelice said. "We're a baseball team -- not just some team thrown together that stinks it up, gets by and just happens to win a couple of games."
Cal Ripken tied Brooks Robinson's franchise record of 2,848 hits with his 10th homer of the season, and B.J. Surhoff went 3-for-3 with a home run for Baltimore.
But the loss dropped the Orioles' record since the All-Star break to 30-9 and spoiled their bid to close within six games of Boston in the wild-card race. The Red Sox lost earlier to Kansas City 8-2.
"The way I figure t, we lost a day. We lost, they lost," Orioles manager Ray Miller said. "Good pitching is going to shut you down."
Saunders (4-11) allowed two runs and three walks. The Baltimore native struck out six to win for the first time in four starts since July 29 and for only the fourth time in 25 starts this season.
"That's the best I've felt all year. Mentally, it got to a point after a couple innings where I'd have enough of it and I wanted to throw strikes and make them put the ball in play," Saunders said.
"He had nasty stuff. Good curve, good changeup," Miller said.
Jim Mecir worked the eighth and Roberto Hernandez got three outs for his 21st save.
"That's what I love about this game: You can take a college team and go out and beat the New York Yankees," DiFelice said. "That's how this game is."
The Orioles trailed 2-0 before Ripken and Surhoff hit solo homers in the seventh. Tampa Bay answered against Arthur Rhodes (3-4) in the eighth.
Quinton McCracken led off with a single, stole second, moved to third on a groundout and scored on Smith's fly to deep center.
Miguel Cairo singled in a run in the ninth, his second RBI of the game.
Trammell gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead in the fourth when he lined a 3-2 pitch into the left-field seats. Seven of his eight homers this season have been solo shots.
The Devils Rays made it 2-0 in the seventh, loading the bases with one out against Juan Guzman before Cairo hit a sacrifice fly off Alan Mills.
Baltimore center fielder Brady Anderson left the game in the second inning after chasing a double by Trammell. He strained a tendon in his right kneecap and is listed as day-to-day.
"It wasn't from banging into the wall. It was from hitting his knee on the warning track," Orioles trainer Richie Bancells said, noting that X-rays were negative. "He's doubtful for tomorrow and will miss a couple, maybe three days."
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved