KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Win, and they're in as American League East champs.
The Rays took care of what was important Saturday, the 4-0 win over the Royals ending their three-game losing streak and extending their battle with the Yankees for the division title to today's final day of the regular season, with their fate back in their own hands.
And though their scheme to get David Price his 20th win didn't work out — as Chad Qualls was instead awarded the victory by the official scorer — Price came out of a one-inning tuneup for his playoffs-opening start with a decent consolation prize, the chance to open at home if they end up as division champs.
"We want to win the AL East and we want to have homefield advantage," Price said. "Getting a win that way for No. 20 doesn't really mean a whole lot to me anyway. I'll go for 20 on Wednesday."
To win the division title, all the Rays (95-66) have to do today is beat the Royals.
When the Yankees (95-66) split their doubleheader with the Red Sox — or at least the squad of mostly backups and minor-league callups wearing Red Sox uniforms — the Rays regained control of the race because they hold the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series.
So if the Rays beat the Royals, or if the Rays and Yankees both lose today, then the Rays are the division champs and would get to open at home Wednesday against Texas while the wild-card Yankees would fly to Minnesota to face the Twins. (Plus, whoever wins the East will end up with homefield advantage in the second round as well.)
Both the Rays and Yankees went into Saturday with a chance to clinch, but once the Yankees won their first game and the Rays won theirs, the only thing decided was — much like the way they've been going back and forth at the top for the past few months — that there would be no final decision until today.
"I guess it is appropriate," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
After a five-game stretch in which they were shut out three times and limited to no more than six hits, Maddon wanted the Rays to get off to a good start offensively, and he stressed that point in a pregame meeting.
They responded, taking a two-run lead in the first on a triple by Matt Joyce, then adding solo runs on a Carl Crawford homer (his career-high 19th) and a sacrifice fly by B.J. Upton. The defense was tidy and the pitching — even as they used a team-record-tying eight for a nine-inning game — was sharp.
"It's more like our game," Maddon said. "That looked more like us. That was nice to see."
They also wanted Price to get some work Saturday. And they chose to use him out of the bullpen on the chance the game set up properly for him to be awarded the win.
It appeared to be working out exactly as they hoped, with starter Andy Sonnanstine out of the game (without working the requisite five innings for a starter to get the win) and a 4-0 lead when Price came on to pitch the fifth.
He got three quick outs on 13 pitches, but pitching coach Jim Hickey told Maddon — given that Price had last pitched on Tuesday and would start on Wednesday — that it was enough work.
It wasn't enough, however, to persuade official scorer Del Black to award him the victory, whereas two innings might have been.
Under MLB rule 10.17 (b) 2, Black is to give the win to the reliever he deems "most effective," and Black said there was no question it was Qualls, who came in with the bases loaded and one out and a 3-0 lead and got a double-play grounder to end the inning — even though he threw only two pitches.
"It was by the book," Black said.
Maddon said he understood. "I agree with what he did, but I had no idea what he was going to do," Maddon said. "And further, it's about the big picture."
And that was looking a bit better.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]mes.com.