ST. PETERSBURG -- Making the postseason in 2019 was a big accomplishment for the Rays. It was the first taste of the playoffs for a young core, something the organization knew would pay dividends moving forward.
Following that experience, the Rays secured the No. 1 seed and won the American League East for the first time since 2010, both things they appreciated and acknowledged. But their level of success this season will be determined more by what they accomplish in October.
Tampa Bay’s chase for the first World Series championship in franchise history is off to a strong start, as it completed a sweep of Toronto in the best-of-three American League Wild Card Series with an 8-2 win in Wednesday’s Game 2 at Tropicana Field.
The Rays advance to the AL Division Series and will face the Yankees, who finished a sweep of the Indians on Wednesday night, in Game 1 on Monday at Petco Park in San Diego.
“Every win in the postseason is that much more [momentum],” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We played good right at the end of the year and got where we needed to be from a pitching standpoint. Now, it’s just trying to ride that wave of momentum, and these guys do an unbelievable job at creating that.”
In order for the Rays to accomplish all their goals, their pitching staff will likely have to lead the way, much like Blake Snell and the bullpen did in their Game 1 win over the Blue Jays. But in Game 2, it was the offense that carried Tampa Bay.
The Rays rattled off four singles, including a Manuel Margot RBI hit, in the first inning against Blue Jays ace Hyun Jin Ryu to take an early 1-0 lead. In the second, the offense delivered the knockout punch against Ryu. Kevin Kiermaier led off with a single, and that was quickly followed by a Mike Zunino two-run homer to extend the lead to 3-0.
Randy Arozarena continued the rally with a one-out double. Yandy Díaz drew a four-pitch walk, and then the Rays were given a gift by the Blue Jays’ defense, as Margot reached on a Bo Bichette error to extend the inning and load the bases. That proved to be costly as Hunter Renfroe hit the first postseason grand slam in franchise history to cap off the six-run second.
“We showed the potential of what we can do on both sides of the ball,” Zunino said. “Obviously, in Game 1 we had Blake throw an absolute gem and we were able to scrape enough runs to win, and today showed the bats coming alive and Tyler allowing just two and the bullpen keeping it where it was. I think it just solidifies who we are as a team.”
On the mound, Tyler Glasnow picked up right where the pitching staff left off Tuesday. The right-hander opened the game with three consecutive fastballs to Cavan Biggio to record a strikeout. The last heater came in at 99.3 mph at the knees to get Biggio looking and set the tone for the rest of the evening.
Glasnow struck out eight and allowed two runs on six hits over six strong innings. His only mistakes were two pitches to Blue Jays catcher Danny Jansen, who turned both into solo home runs. Rays pitching has allowed only three earned runs over the past 29 innings, dating back to the regular season. Tampa Bay also improved to 10-2 in games started by Glasnow in 2020.
“It feels great,” Glasnow said of moving on to the ALDS. “We had a bunch of confidence going into this. Everyone went out there with no pressure, just kind of loose like we’ve been all year. Especially in that second inning, just to watch the momentum and the adrenaline from the grand slam, it was a pretty special moment.”
The Rays will play in the ALDS for the sixth time in franchise history. Over the weekend, they’ll fly to San Diego, a city they hope to call home for the next few weeks, as Petco Park will also host the AL Championship Series. The World Series will take place at Globe Life Field in Arlington beginning Oct. 20.
Now, Tampa Bay will play New York, which it went 8-2 against during the regular season.
It’s fair to assume that the two teams won’t be smiling at each other on or off the field. The last time the two AL East rivals faced off, New York closer Aroldis Chapman threw a 100 mph fastball over Mike Brosseau’s head, which led to Cash’s postgame warning about his “stable” of pitchers that throw 98 mph.
“Who we play, I don’t want to say is irrelevant, but if we can control what we can control, that’s the biggest thing for us,” Zunino said. “Our pitching staff, our bullpen and if we can have quality at-bats, I like our odds against anybody.”