ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays clinched a spot in the postseason with a 7-1 win over the Blue Jays on Wednesday afternoon at Tropicana Field.
Major League Baseball determined that all the Rays had to do was win this afternoon and it would not matter what else took place. The playoff berth is the third straight and seventh in team history.
The magic number to clinch the American League East was reduced to four, pending the outcome of Wednesday night’s game between the Red Sox and Mets. With the Rays and Red Sox off tomorrow, the earliest they can clinch is Saturday.
“It is a pretty special day,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “I am glad we got it done at home. These guys have been so good all year long. They deserve to be in this spot. We have more work to be done, but you have to enjoy these moments because they are tough to come by.”
The win did not take place without some late-inning drama. Kevin Kiermaier led off the eighth for the Rays and was beaned on the pitch by Blue Jays’ reliever Ryan Borucki. The benches cleared, but without incident.
Borucki was ejected as was pitching coach Pete Walker, who was incensed his pitcher got the thumb.
After he was thrown out at home during Monday night’s win over the Blue Jays, Kiermaier picked up the pitching chart that fell from catcher Alejandro Kirk’s wrist band. Kiermaier took it to the dugout and gave it to field coordinator Paul Hoover.
When a Toronto batboy attempted to retrieve the chart, the Rays joked around with him and did not give it back. Kevin Cash said he did not know that Kiermaier had the chart and thought Toronto manager and friend Charlie Montoyo was joking around, as they often do even during games.
Cash said Tuesday night that he apologized to Toronto general manager Ross Atkins, Walker and Montoyo and it appeared as though it was over and done with. That was especially the case when Wednesday’s game went along without issue. Until Borucki hit the Rays’ center fielder.
“It was intentional,” said Kiermaier. “I thought if they were going to do it, it would have been the first at-bat. I thought it was a weak move.”
Cash said he thought it was intentional.
“I thought there was a better way to handle that,” he said. “I was hoping it was over. It wasn’t.”
The Rays erupted for six runs in the third. After loading the bases with nobody out, Yandy Diaz drove in the first run with a sacrifice fly. Austin Meadows followed with a three-run home run that traveled 443 feet to right center.
Two hours later the Rays were celebrating.
“It’s a huge testament to the whole organization,” said Brandon Lowe, when asked about how the team managed to battle through numerous injuries.
Luis Patino started and went three innings. After throwing 22 pitches in the first, he needed only 15 to get through the next two innings.
Five relievers followed Patino with David Robertson finishing things off in the ninth.
Tom Layberger is also a contributing writer for forbes.com and The Tampa Free Press