Rays beat Mets 8-5, clinch 1st AL East title in 10 years
NEW YORK (AP) — Confetti instead of champagne. Silly string instead of beer.
The Tampa Bay Rays, long accustomed to doing more with less, figured out a way to maximize the divisionclinching celebration they were allowed to enjoy during a 2020 season shortened by the coronavirus.
Randy Arozarena homered twice and the Rays clinched their first AL East title in 10 years Wednesday night with an 8-5 victory over the New York Mets.
“I’m completely dry right now, which I’m not a huge fan of,” center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, the longest-tenured Rays player, said with a grin. “But you have to adapt to what we’re asked of.”
With teams instructed to celebrate in a muted and socially distant style, the Rays went old school — or maybe elementary school — with their clinching party.
The team filed slowly onto the field after Nick Anderson fanned Andres Gimenez for the final out. A couple of players shot off canisters filled with confetti that eventually dotted the grass and dirt at Citi Field. Hugs and handshakes were exchanged before the Rays doused one another with silly string and lit some cigars in the visiting clubhouse.
Later, hooting and hollering could be heard from the visitors’ dugout.
“We’re little kids trapped in grown men’s bodies,” Kiermaier said.
Joey Wendle and Brandon Lowe also went deep for the Rays to back Tyler Glasnow’s six solid innings. Tampa Bay will be home at quirky Tropicana Field for a best-of-three first-round playoff series beginning next Tuesday.
It is the third division crown for the thrifty Rays, whose payroll this season is just over $28 million — more than only the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles.
Tampa Bay, which began play in 1998, also won the AL East, home of two big-spending powers in the Yankees and Red Sox, in 2008 and 2010.
“It feels great to win the division, no matter what division you’re in,” Kiermaier said. “But especially the American League East — it’s just a different animal.”
After missing a chance to clinch Tuesday, the Rays went into Wednesday again needing just a win or a Yankees loss against Toronto to lock up the division championship.
The Rays (37-20) broke a 2-all tie in the sixth on Arozarena’s two-run homer off Michael Wacha and pulled away, taking care of business themselves while New York was routed 14-1 by the Blue Jays.
“At the end of the day, a clinch is a clinch,” said Wendle, who homered in the second. “But to do it on a win — everybody’s kind of riding the high of winning the game along with the division. We didn’t want to see it come down to them losing a game.”
Tampa Bay also is closing in on wrapping up the top record in the AL and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
Lowe, who had an RBI fielder’s choice in the third, hit a two-run homer in the eighth. Willy Adames added an RBI single later in the inning and Arozarena homered again in the ninth.
The insurance came in handy for the Rays when the Mets scored three times off Oliver Drake in the ninth — via an RBI groundout by Robinson Cano and a tworun homer by Todd Frazier — before Anderson closed the door.
“I think we had the game pretty much in control (and) certainly recognized what was going on in Buffalo, but I don’t know if you can ever prepare for a moment like that — it’s pretty special,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
Glasnow (5-1) allowed two runs on three hits and one walk with eight strikeouts.
Gimenez and Dominic Smith homered off Glasnow in the final home game of the season for the Mets, whose long-shot playoff hopes were further damaged with the loss.
With four games to play, New York is three behind Miami for second place in the NL East — with Philadelphia in between. The Mets are 3 1/2 games out of a wild-card spot.
“We still have a shot with the four games left and we’re competing,” manager Luis Rojas said. “We’ve just got to do what we do — just keep fighting like we did in the ninth.”
Tampa Bay Rays’ Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, right, of Japan, celebrates with teammates after a baseball game against the New York Mets Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in New York. The Rays won 8-5. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)