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Jose Siri leads way as Rays rally late to avoid sweep by Orioles

BALTIMORE — Jose Siri was content to bunt.

With his Rays down one and Isaac Paredes and Amed Rosario opening the eighth inning with singles, he got the sign from third base coach Brady Williams and navigated his way through two balls, then missed a bunt trying to get the ball down to move the runners up a base.

“I was just trying to do something for the team, trying to get the runners over,” said Siri, via team interpreter Manny Navarro.

After watching Siri’s flailed attempt, manager Kevin Cash changed the plan, discarding any need for secrecy by yelling to Siri from the third base dugout, “Swing it! Swing it!”

Siri heard him and prepared to adjust his approach: “He’s the boss, I’ve got to listen to him.” Catcher James McCann heard also and relayed word to the Baltimore dugout. “I think the manager of the Orioles knew everything,” said Siri, adding in English: “No secret.”

Siri was looking for a pitch over the plate he could drive toward right. He took a ball from reliever Dillon Tate, then got the next one, lacing it off the right-centerfield wall, delivering the biggest hit in what for the struggling Rays was an important win. The 4-3 victory prevented a series sweep by the Orioles.

“It is big to get out of here with a win, for sure, go into (Monday’s) off-day feeling a little bit better,” Cash said. “We’ve got more work to do, certainly, but it’s a good team. Felt like we played them pretty tough for Game 1 and Game 3, and then even early on (Saturday). We’ve got to find ways to get back to being ourselves and finding ways to win games late, kind of like what we did today.”

The Rays (29-31) still haven’t been winning much, but Siri has played a major role in their last three victories, walkoffs against Oakland on Wednesday and Thursday, and then Sunday.

“We’ve talked about (him) every day it seems like,” Cash said. “He’s swinging the bat really, really well. Came through in a big way.”

Siri said he is just trying to do his part.

“It felt good, especially in a game like this where I may have failed two or three at-bats before,” he said. “You’ve got to keep going and hopefully have good results there at the end.”

Given how things have been going the Rays, there was still more drama to come.

Reliever Garrett Cleavinger, who has allowed one earned run in his last 22 games, took over and quickly made a mess in the home eighth, loading the bases on a hit batter, a one-out walk and a single.

But then Cleavinger took a deep breath and quickly got out of it, throwing a slider that Ryan Mountcastle grounded to third baseman Rosario, who threw to Richie Palacios at second, who relayed it to Yandy Diaz for a lead-saving double play.

“It was tough,” Cleavinger said. “They’re obviously a really good team and you put yourself behind the eight ball a little bit. ... So that kind of sucked. But I feel like I made some decent pitches to kind of get out of it. ... That was awesome to turn that double play.”

For much of the afternoon, the game looked like many others have this season, as the Rays got a good enough start from Zack Littell — who allowed a career-high 11 hits (a leadoff homer and 10 singles) but only three runs over six innings — and didn’t provide much help, as they were blanked into the fifth by Orioles lefty Cole Irvin.

“Double-edged sword,” Littell said. “Kind of happy with it, kind of not, you know?”

But they eventually came back, with shortstop Jose Caballero playing a key role that was even more impressive since he nearly had to leave the game in the second inning. After diving for a ball and landing awkwardly on his left side, he couldn’t breathe and stayed on the ground for a few minutes, but stayed in.

In the fifth, he singled with one out, went to third on a single by Alex Jackson, who snapped an 0-for-30 skid, and scored on a sac fly. Two innings later, Caballero, who Saturday night shaved off his season-long beard, got the Rays to within 3-2 when he led off with a homer, his first since April 22 and third overall.

By the end, Sunday’s game included a lot of things the Rays have been missing recently — big hits in a late rally, a key defensive play and clutch pitching — and need to do more of.

“That’s kind of been our recipe for quite some time,” Cash said. “We’re not a team that’s built to go up there and out-slug different groups, different teams. We’re capable of it at times. But we’ve got do little things right that we can control. I thought we did that today.”

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