During Summer Camp, most Rays players were asked whether or not they believed a World Series title would come with an asterisk in this shortened 2020 season. One by one, the players responded with a resounding, ‘No,’ but they also added that they would have to reach the postseason before allowing themselves to think that far ahead.
With a 10-6 win in Game 2 of Thursday’s seven-inning doubleheader against the Orioles at Camden Yards, the Rays accomplished one of their season goals: clinching back-to-back postseason appearances for the second time in franchise history (along with 2010 and '11).
Since 2008, the Rays have six postseason appearances, which is behind only the Dodgers (10), Yankees (8) and Cardinals (7).
“It means a lot,” manager Kevin Cash said. “I can’t imagine being a player in today’s game with what has taken place, the challenges, what’s been on their plate. A weird season is about as well as you can sum it up. Give these guys a lot of credit for the way they went about their business, found ways to win games on a nightly basis, and now, we want to create as much momentum as possible going into the postseason.”
Clinching a postseason berth this season didn't include a big on-field celebration, a party in the clubhouse or Willy Adames dancing all over the plate. But the Rays still had plenty to celebrate after overcoming a lot of adversity already in this 60-game regular season.
The Rays have lost five pitchers to season-ending injuries, and at one point, they had 13 key players on the injured list. After starting the year 5-7, Tampa Bay has established itself as one of the best teams in the American League. That’s what Cash told the team during a postgame speech in the visiting clubhouse.
“It’s an insane season, something that for sure hasn’t happened before in the history of baseball,” Rays infielder Mike Brosseau said. “So under the circumstances, it’s pretty cool to know that a team came together under these protocols and under what’s going on in the world and came together and played good enough to get us into the postseason.”
“I knew with the talent we have here, we could do amazing things,” Adames said. “Today, the work that we put in, it paid off. It feels really good, and I’m so excited for the team. I’m just happy that we’re going back [to the postseason] this year, and hopefully we can go all the way through and win it all.”
The Rays' offense had a much-needed breakout performance in the second game of the twin bill. Tampa Bay’s lineup had been quiet the past few weeks, but it got big contributions from several struggling hitters in the win, particularly Adames, who struck out four times in the Game 1 win.
Adames opened the scoring in Game 2 with a three-run homer in the first inning off Orioles left-hander Bruce Zimmermann, who was making his first career start. In order for the Rays to make some noise in the postseason, they’re likely going to need their star shortstop to hit.
“We’re not doing anything without Willy producing the way he’s capable of,” Cash said. “Willy enjoyed it, the dugout was pumped when he did it, because he’s one of those guys that, if you don’t like Willy Adames, you need to check yourself and look in the mirror. He’s such a likable guy and you want to see him have success, and that was a big hit in the game.”
Hunter Renfroe hit a solo homer in the third, which is another good sign for Tampa Bay. Joey Wendle hit a two-run homer in the fourth, while the Rays broke a 6-6 tie with a four-run rally in the fifth, with Nate Lowe's RBI single putting them ahead.
Now that Tampa Bay has clinched one of the eight AL postseason berths, the club will look to reach another goal. When the Rays flew back to St. Petersburg after their Game 5 loss to the Astros in last year's AL Division Series, they talked about the importance of winning the AL East in 2020.
With nine games left in the regular season, Tampa Bay has put itself in good position to potentially accomplish that goal. The Rays have a 3 1/2-game lead over the Yankees, and the magic number to secure their first AL East crown since 2010 is now six.
“This is the first step,” Adames said. “Like I said at the beginning of the season, everybody has the same shot, and for us to be there at the top means a lot to everybody in the clubhouse and to our families. We have to continue to win the division, and I know it will be special if we win it.”