NEW YORK -- Dragging after a late-night arrival from Houston and delayed by midtown Manhattan traffic, the Rays arrived at Yankee Stadium early Friday evening with nothing officially on the line. They could’ve been swept out of the Bronx this weekend, and it would not have changed their standing atop the American League heading into the postseason.
Clearly, that did not matter to Brandon Lowe and the rest of the Rays.
After winning Friday’s series opener, Tampa Bay spent Saturday afternoon emphatically crossing the final item off its regular-season to-do list. Lowe launched three homers and drove in seven runs, a career day at the plate that put him on the brink of a 40-homer, 100-RBI campaign, as the Rays breezed past the Yankees, 12-2, for their 100th win of the season.
“I wouldn't expect otherwise,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “They come to the ballpark prepared, ready to win, ready to work. … We want to do everything we can to win.”
• Games remaining: 1 vs. Yankees
• Standings update: Clinched first place in the AL East
• Home-field advantage: Clinched through the AL Championship Series
The Rays have won 100 games in a season for the first time in franchise history to become the Majors’ third 100-win team of 2021, joining the Giants and Dodgers. And they’ve done it in the rugged AL East, which includes four 90-win teams, by winning their season series against each of their four division opponents. Of their 100 wins, 51 have come against AL East opponents.
“That just is very reflective of how talented the division is, but ultimately how talented this club has been this year,” Cash said. “So proud of the guys, happy for them. One hundred sounds better than 99, and 101 sounds better than 100.”
Lowe helped make No. 100 happen Saturday with one of the best offensive performances the Rays have ever seen. He pulled a pair of three-run homers to right field off left-hander Jordan Montgomery, one in the first inning and another in the third, then launched a solo shot off Michael King in the seventh.
Lowe became the fifth player in franchise history with a three-homer game. He tied Carlos Peña (Sept. 5, 2007) for the second-most RBIs in a game by a Tampa Bay player. He also tied the club’s single-game record for most total bases, with 12, and he’ll have a chance Sunday to complete Tampa Bay’s second 40-homer, 100-RBI season.
“What a day, what a season he's put together. Today was pretty special,” Cash said. “He's pushing 40 and 100, and that's a pretty remarkable season.”
All the more so considering Lowe’s slow start to the season. The low point came at the end of play on June 2, when the Rays’ 2020 MVP was hitting just .188 with a .668 OPS and nine homers through 53 games. While he mostly hit like himself against right-handed pitchers, southpaws were giving the left-handed-hitting Lowe all sorts of unexpected issues.
But he stuck to his work with hitting coach Chad Mottola, broke all the way out of his slump and caught fire by homering in his past three games, a streak punctuated by the Rays’ first three-homer performance since Travis d’Arnaud at Yankee Stadium on July 15, 2019.
“Do I wish there was a certain thing that you could go back and just erase a few at-bats over the season and call it a full year? Sure,” Lowe said. “But honestly, everything that I've learned from those at-bats, being able to understand where I'm at now, the stuff that we kind of changed from at-bats then, being able to go back and look at those, it's been a huge help to kind of keep me where I'm at.
“Thankful that it happened, and hopefully it doesn't happen again.”
Lowe said his first-inning homer Saturday was his favorite, simply because it gave rookie starter Shane Baz a lead. The others, he said, were just “icing on the cake.” Lowe figured he’ll probably reflect more on the accomplishment in the offseason, noting that it’s just “another game” for now.
Lowe allowed himself to grin and laugh, though, as he bashed forearms with catcher Mike Zunino following his third homer. He said he was teasing Zunino, who hit his 33rd homer in the third inning, that he’d have to pick up the pace to keep up in the friendly competition they began back in Spring Training.
“He doesn't get too emotional, but I hope he gets to enjoy it, because it's a special accomplishment,” Zunino said. “He's one of few guys that has the power, has the approach to be able to do it, and it was a cool day to watch him do that.”
Lowe’s three-homer game was the highlight on a day full of encouraging performances. Baz gave up only one hit, a solo homer by Anthony Rizzo, in 2 1/3 innings, then exited before facing Yankees slugger Aaron Judge a second time. Luis Patiño, getting a playoff-preview look out of the bullpen, struck out three of the seven hitters he faced in two scoreless innings. Matt Wisler looked healthy in another scoreless frame.
Randy Arozarena went 3-for-4 and stole two bases, pulling within one swipe of his highly desired 20-homer, 20-steal season. Wander Franco had three hits. Austin Meadows’ three-run shot in the seventh was his 27th of the season. Everyone in the lineup reached safely as the Rays tied their season high with 19 hits. Heck, catcher Francisco Mejía even made some nice defensive plays in his first professional start at first base.
It was a complete team performance, fittingly representing the way the Rays have won 100 games.
“It's a huge testament to just everybody that we have in the clubhouse, on the staff, everything,” Lowe said. “You kind of see that in the win column, it's definitely special and something that we'll all have for the rest of our lives. But we have a chance for 101, and we're going to try to do that.”