Rays in postseason for 1st time since 2013

Tampa Bay to face Oakland, with whom they are tied, in AL WC Game

September 28th, 2019

TORONTO -- When the Rays held their team meeting on the first day of Spring Training, Kevin Kiermaier looked around the room and encouraged his teammates to take a look at the talent that the club would carry into the season.

“Look at the talent in this room,” Kiermaier told his teammates. “Once again, we’re not expected to do anything, but we control our own destiny, and it’s up to us to have a magical season if we want to. If we go out there and play the game we love and we all click together as a unit, the sky is the limit.”

A lot has happened since that meeting in Port Charlotte, Fla. The Rays have had some ups and downs and faced a ton of adversity after multiple key injuries. But they have also had a lot of good moments, including 10 walk-off wins, and after tying the franchise record in wins with 96, the club will look to break it over the last two games of the regular season.

But their finest moment came on Friday in Toronto. delivered with an early two-run home run, and contributed with 4 1/3 no-hit innings to help the Rays clinch their first postseason berth since 2013 with a 6-2 win against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.

The Rays will play the A’s in the American League Wild Card Game on Wednesday. Oakland won the season series, 4-3, but Tampa Bay outscored the A's, 30-26. The teams are tied after Oakland's 4-3 loss to the Mariners on Friday night, but the A's own the tiebreaker for home-field advantage for having won the season series.

“We talked a lot about the postseason teams from 2018,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Are we going to be good enough this year? We’re good enough.”

The Rays came into Friday’s game with their magic number at two, needing a win and an Indians loss to clinch an AL Wild Card berth. The players said all the right things, but you could feel a palpable buzz inside the clubhouse, which is usually loud anyway. They insisted that all they could control was what happened in their game, but they surely had eyes on the out-of-town scoreboard that showed the Indians trailing 7-2 in the sixth inning against the Nationals.

Pham helped the Rays jump out to a 2-0 lead in the third inning with his 21st home run of the season. Willy Adames added an RBI single in the fourth to make it 3-0. In the seventh, however, the Blue Jays made things interesting as Teoscar Hernández hit a two-run home run off Oliver Drake to make it 3-2.

But as they’ve done all season, the Rays answered right back, scoring two runs in the top of the eighth. Then Drake bounced back with a clean bottom half and, after added their sixth run in the ninth inning with his 33rd home run of the season, it seemed fitting that , who has 15 of his team-high 20 saves since the All-Star break, finished it off in the ninth. With the Indians’ game already decided, it was the Rays’ turn to celebrate once the 27th out was recorded.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten a bigger out ever in my life, so it’s hard to put into words the feeling I had,” Pagán said. “Definitely excited for the future of this organization, both this season and the postseason.”

It’s fitting that Tampa Bay clinched its spot in Toronto. It’s the place where the Rays recorded their largest comeback win of the season, and it’s also where they found out they were going to lose Blake Snell for a couple of months due to loose bodies in his left elbow, leaving their rotation with a lot of question marks. But the Rays continued to believe that they were good enough to be one of the five AL teams in the postseason.

“This is a fun group. It’s a really fun group,” Rays starter Charlie Morton said. “I mean, you just see it in their faces right now, how excited they are. Everybody’s just really happy, and we achieved something really great, in a tough division, so it means a lot. Just look around this room. I’m just doing circles in the room, walking around trying to see everybody. This is extra rewarding to be a part of a group like this, just quality people.”

It wasn’t always easy for the Rays. The injuries to pitchers and position players continued to stack up, and they saw the Yankees race past them in the AL East standings in early June. They faced adversity after going just 3-3 in an August homestand against the Tigers and Mariners, and they followed that with a series split on the road against the Orioles.

To many, the world appeared to be falling in on the Rays. But they continued to prove people wrong.

“I look at the buy-in,” Cash said. “We do a lot of crazy stuff. People scratch their head as to, ‘Why are we doing this? What’s the thought process?’ These players, they don’t care. They just want to win, and ultimately they did.”

As the season went on, the team gained more confidence. A comeback win against the Dodgers in Los Angeles gave the Rays even more belief that they were good enough to make the postseason. They went on to go 5-1 in the last homestand of the season against the Red Sox and the Yankees before clinching on Friday.

It was a difficult journey, but the fact that it took 57 players, a franchise record, made it a little bit sweeter for the Rays, who entered the 2019 season with the lowest payroll in baseball.

“It was a challenge. It was hard,” Rays general manager Erik Neander said. “The injuries that happened, to respond on the fly was difficult. Our staff is wonderful. The players are ready to go. Our player development staff prepared them. Next man up. Cliche a little bit, but these guys are the best.

“This is as good as it gets. The players, the culture, their drive and what they want -- they make it go. They take a near-impossible, incredibly challenging situation, and they make it this. We made it, the credit goes to them.”

The Rays know how talented of a team the A’s have, and they have said they are ready for the challenge, whether the game is played at Tropicana Field or the Coliseum. The focus will shift to Oakland after Friday’s party comes to an end.

As Guillermo Heredia and Adames danced in the clubhouse, and as Kiermaier and Brandon Lowe smoked cigars, Cash and the players in the room got the answer they were looking for: They are good enough.

“It doesn’t seem like that long ago that people were predicting us to lose 100 games last year, and we went out and won 90 and now [96] this year,” Rays infielder Joey Wendle said. “We’ve put ourselves in a good position, so it’s definitely fun. Love this group of guys, and I have a lot of confidence in each and every one of them down the stretch.”