NEW YORK — The Rays were thrilled to be the close-up observers to Thursday's emotional festivities marking the final Yankee Stadium appearance by Mariano Rivera, watching, clapping, some even tearing up.
But they have their own celebration in mind, possibly as soon as tonight in Toronto.
"Let's do that," starter Alex Cobb said. "The sooner the better."
The Rays rolled to a seventh straight victory, 4-0 over the Yankees, and reduced their magic number to clinch a playoff spot to two, meaning that with any combination of two wins and Rangers losses, they will have secured a spot in Wednesday's American League wild-card game.
That game will be at the Trop if the Rays hang on to the top wild-card spot. With three games left in the season, they are a game ahead of the Indians, and two of the Rangers, both of whom also won Thursday.
"I can definitely sense it," third baseman Evan Longoria said, "but the teams that are behind us, they're not making it any easier, they're not laying down. That's what this time of year is all about. As close as it seems, we can't really let up. We can't go out and just believe that it's going to happen for us."
They made it happen Thursday, winning their 90th game and sweeping a three-game series at Yankee Stadium for the first time, with a combination of a dominant start by Alex Cobb, who took a one-hitter into the eighth; dazzling relief work by Joel Peralta; three RBIs from a surging Longoria; and a homer by Delmon Young.
"The way we're playing, the way we're scoring runs at the right time, we just feel like we can beat anybody right now," Peralta said.
Cobb said he wasn't as sharp as he looked early and didn't realize he had allowed only one hit, or retired 15 straight at one point, but got better as he went, winning his third straight. "He pitched really well once again," manager Joe Maddon said.
Cobb admitted that he got caught up in watching Rivera get the last two outs in the top of the eighth with the sold-out crowd of 48,675 roaring.
"I stopped thinking about the actual game I was pitching in and just the moment I was in," Cobb said. "I never felt those emotions in a baseball stadium. It was the coolest thing I've ever been a part of to this day.
"I went out there after he pitched and all I was thinking about was that I was on the same mound that Mariano just took after all that happened. I probably should have been thinking about other things than that."
Cobb gave up a double and a single, and Maddon decided that, with 96 pitches, was enough and summoned Peralta, who seems to have recovered from his recent struggles by relying more on his fastball.
Peralta said his own eyes had watered watching Rivera, the all-time saves leader, jog in from the Yankees bullpen for the last time, most of the Rays standing in front of the dugout or in the bullpen and applauding.
But then Peralta got to work, getting the Rays safely out of trouble with two strikeouts and a flyout.
"That pretty much was the game right there," Maddon said.
The Rays, who have reached 90 wins in four straight seasons and five of six, took the early lead on a Longoria RBI single in the fourth and got a homer from Young in the sixth. They added on when Longoria, who homered twice Wednesday, singled in two more. "He's trending in the right direction," Maddon said. "We definitely need that now."
Maddon likes a lot of what he's seeing, from the pitching to the hitting to the attitude.
"We've been on the verge of like really getting over the hump and really getting the mind-set in the right direction several times," he said. "But right now it's just a little bit different. It's a little bit better. They're really sniffing it, and that matters. So you're seeing a higher level of mental play, and that's what you're always seeking."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]tampabay.com.