Rays beat Mets 8-5, clinch 1st AL East ti­tle in 10 years

Cecil Whig - - OURCECIL - By JERRY BEACH

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.”

FRANK FRANKLIN II

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)

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