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Rays snap skid behind Zach Eflin, tie Orioles again atop division

Eflin throws seven scoreless innings, and homers by Jose Siri and Isaac Paredes lift the Rays to a shutout.
 
Rays starting pitcher Zach Eflin goes seven innings Friday night at Tropicana Field, striking eight Orioles hitters.
Rays starting pitcher Zach Eflin goes seven innings Friday night at Tropicana Field, striking eight Orioles hitters. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published July 22, 2023|Updated July 22, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG — Jose Siri flung his bat up the first base line and pounded his chest several times. The Rays centerfielder let out about a month’s worth of frustration before he completed his trip around the bases.

With home runs from Siri and Isaac Paredes, and seven scoreless, two-hit innings from Zach Eflin, the Rays beat the Orioles 3-0 in front of a crowd of 19,703 Friday night to snap a five-game losing streak.

It was just their fourth win in the month of July.

“It feels really, really good. Really good. We had a good time postgame in the clubhouse after the game. It’s something that we did for a really long time to begin the year, so it’s nice to get back to that and enjoy each other and have fun,” Eflin said. “So we’ll take that momentum into (Saturday) and just keep having fun.”

Jose Siri celebrates moments after hitting a solo home run during the seventh inning.
Jose Siri celebrates moments after hitting a solo home run during the seventh inning. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

The Rays (61-40), who surrendered their hold on first place in the American League East on Thursday night, moved back into a tie with the Orioles (59-38) for the division lead. There are six more games head-to-head this season, including two more at Tropicana Field this weekend.

“It feels good. I know we haven’t really been playing too well and been winning games recently,” Paredes said via Rays interpreter Manny Navarro. “So it’s good to be able to play well like that.”

And for the first time in a while, the Rays did play well — all around.

Eflin was dominant with his sinker, recording the first five of his eight strikeouts on called strikes with the pitch. He went deep into the game, throwing seven innings for the third time this season. He struck out eight, one shy of his season high, and walked one batter. He allowed a double to Ryan Mountcastle in the second and a single to Ryan O’Hearn in the fourth.

“That’s a big, tall order. He did it about as well as he could. I mean, a bunch of switch hitters and a bunch of lefties in there,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I think one other start that maybe against the Pirates where I saw him really really execute, spot on didn’t seem like he missed a location all night long. When you do that with his stuff, you’re going to give yourself a good chance to have success and that was a big, big start for us.”

After a brutal defensive inning cost them Thursday night, the Rays were sharp Friday. Brandon Lowe robbed Adley Rutschman of a line-drive single with a diving grab in the first, and Yandy Diaz a terrific diving stop to get Anthony Santander in the fourth.

Isaac Paredes drives a solo homer deep during the sixth inning.
Isaac Paredes drives a solo homer deep during the sixth inning. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

And the offense, which has been tied with the Rockies for the worst in baseball this month, finally punched through. Lowe doubled and scored on Harold Ramirez’s hard-hit grounder back up the middle in the second, and Paredes came through with his 18th of the season off Kyle Bradish in the sixth.

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“It was a great feeling to hit a home run against a team that obviously we’re fighting for the division lead,” Paredes said. “But it felt really good to be able to connect with that homer.”

Siri certainly was not hiding how he felt after his 20th homer of the season.

“With home runs you have to celebrate because you don’t know when you’re going to hit another one,” Siri said via Navarro. “So I tend to celebrate them when I can.”

Siri had never faced Shintaro Fujinami, who made his first appearance for the Orioles after being acquired in a trade from Oakland. He had watched carefully when he pitched against the Rays last month in Oakland. He knew his best shot was jumping on a fastball early.

“I was looking for that because I know after that to see all the other breaking stuff, the sinkers, the curveballs, the pitches in and out,” Siri said. “I knew he threw hard so I was sitting fastball.”

He got a first-pitch fastball that he sent just over the leftfield fence. It didn’t matter how far it went to Siri and the Rays, it was finally something to celebrate.

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