Rays win AL East title, will host Rangers on Wednesday
UPDATE, 6:59: The celebration was wet and wild, but not as long or as intense as in 2008 or even last week's playoffs clincher at home. The Rays did bask in their accomplishment.
“To win this division two out of three years, you’re doing something,’’ Carl Crawford said. “I know the goal is to win the World Series, but to win the American League East is saying a lot, just saying what kind of team you have.’’
UPDATE, 5:49: More than an hour after winning the AL East, the Rays got to celebrate as Rafael Soriano struck out Mike Aviles for the final out to seal their 3-2, 12-inning victory.
The Rays took the lead when Rocco Baldelli singled in the 12th, stole second and scored when the Royals couldn't make the play on Kelly Shoppach's hard-hit ball.
With the win, the Rays finished an AL-best 96-66, a game ahead of the 95-67 Yankees.
There was a modest celebration on the mound, then the Rays headed inside where champagne and beer has been on ice.
DEVELOPING: The Rays won the American League East championship without winning their game.
The Yankees’ 8-4 loss in Boston gave the Rays the division crown – which became official just after the Rays rallied in the ninth inning to tie their game at Kansas City – as well as a date with the Texas Rangers starting Wednesday at Tropicana Field, and homefield advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Game times are expected to be announced tonight; tickets are already sold out.
The Rays planned a wet-and-wild celebration in the visiting clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium after their game. Down 2-0, they rallied to tie on a one-out double by Carlos Pena in the ninth. There was minimal reaction visile in their dugout as the Yankees game ended - just a few players high-fiving - and then the Rays played into the 10th inning.
This is the second time in the last three years the Rays have won the division crown, finishing ahead of both the Yankees and Red Sox despite a significant disadvantage in payroll.
“That's something we've been shooting for since the beginning of the season,’’ Rays manager Joe Maddon said before Sunday’s game. “To be able to do it two out of three years is a wonderful achievement and really speaks wonderfully for the franchise - the scouting and development, etc., it's not just about us, it speaks to everybody. So for a bunch of different reasons. And of course the spoils of homefield advantage.''
The Rays will get to face the AL West champion Rangers (90-71) rather than the Central-winning Twins (94-67), and they will get to open at home, and they are happy for it.
The Rays were 4-2 against the Rangers during the season, including a three-game mid-August sweep at the Trop in which they outscored them 24-11, though the Rangers were a bit shorthanded with second baseman Ian Kinsler and third baseman Michael Young missing much of the series.
"You just move on," manager Ron Washington said after the sweep. "We'll be better equipped the next time we see them. Stay tuned."
Plus, having three of the five games at the Trop could be a significant advantage since the Rangers are a significantly less imposing team on the road, with a 39-42 mark, compared to 51-29 at home, with a lower team batting average (.265 vs. .288), and higher ERA (4.24 vs. 3.62).
The Rangers announced that their rotation will be LHP Cliff Lee, LHP C.J. Wilson and RHP Colby Lewis. The Rays have not announced their rotation yet, though LHP David Price will start the opener.