ST. PETERSBURG — An 8-2 Wednesday afternoon win that was decided early gave the top-seeded Rays a quick and impressive two-game sweep of the Blue Jays in the opening round of baseball’s expanded postseason.
And early this morning, they got their reward:
Another battle with the Yankees, their rancorous rival, in the best-of-five American League Division Series, starting Monday in San Diego. The fifth-seeded Yankees completed a sweep of the No. 4 Indians with a wild, rain-delayed 10-9 win that ended at 1:14 a.m.
The Rays beat up the Yankees during the season, winning eight of 10, but the teams sparred along the way.
Words were exchanged at several junctures, most pointedly after the Sept. 1 game, when Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman threw a 100 mph pitch at the head of Rays infielder Mike Brosseau, leading to the benches emptying, emotions flaring and tempers rising.
Rays manager Kevin Cash then issued a stinging post-game soliloquy, criticizing the Yankees' “poor” judgment, coaching and teaching among other things, then delivering the not-so-veiled threat now commemorated on a series of T-shirts: "I’ve got a whole damn stable full of guys that throw 98 miles an hour. Period.''
The next round of the battle between the top two AL East teams will be played out over potentially five straight days starting Monday, and in San Diego, one of the neutral sites Major League Baseball is using to create bubble-style setups for the rest of the postseason. The Championship Series also will be played at Petco Park.
"The opportunity that’s in front of us, it’s where you want to be,'' Cash said after Wednesdays win, and before their opponent was known. "We’re going to take a day probably to rest … but very excited to be heading to San Diego.''
The Blue Jays weren’t much of a match for the Rays, who looked very much like the team that rolled through the regular season with an American League-best 40-20 record and earned the No. 1 seed in the reformatted playoffs.
"Honestly, to me, they’re the best team in the American League,'' said Jays manager Charlie Montoyo, the former Rays minor- and major-league coach.
“I didn’t play the other teams, we didn’t play the other divisions, so I’m saying a lot. But from the matchups, the pitching they’ve got, the bench, they do a great job. They have a really good team, good defense, good pitching. Yeah, they’re really good, and we knew that coming in, that it was going to be a big challenge for us.”
The Rays won four straight to finish the regular season, then kept that momentum going with the sweep of the Jays at Tropicana Field.
"Every win in the postseason is that much more,'' 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 to try to ride that wave of momentum. And these guys do an unbelievable job in creating that.''
Tuesday’s opener was a tense 3-1 win. The Rays broke open Wednesday’s game by scoring early and often, with a two-run homer by Mike Zunino and a grand slam by Hunter Renfroe producing a six-run second inning off Jays ace Hyun Jin Ryu. A strong six innings from starter Tyler Glasnow and the usual solid relief work from three relievers completed the victory.
"It feels great,'' Glasnow said. "We had a bunch of confidence going into this. Everyone just kind of went out, honestly, no added pressure, everyone just kind of loose, how we’ve been all year.
"Just to go out, especially that second inning, just to watch the momentum and the adrenaline right there from the grand slam, the home runs and stuff. It was a pretty special moment.''
Zunino said the two-game sweep was illustrative of the Rays' weaponry.
"I think it showed the potential of what we can do on both sides of the ball,'' he said. "Obviously, Game 1 we had Blake (Snell) throw an absolute gem, and we were able to scrap enough runs to win. (Wednesday) showed the bats coming alive. Tyler only giving up two (runs). The bullpen keeping it where it’s at.
"I think it just sort of solidifies who we are as a team. Pitching’s going to be the backbone and we can manufacture (runs). Or the bats get hot and we can put up crooked numbers.''
The sweep gave the Rays their first in a multigame postseason series since the 2008 AL Championship Series against the Red Sox. They had lost their previous five, including division series in 2019 (to the Astros), 2013 (Red Sox), 2011 (Rangers) and 2010 (Rangers), and the 2008 World Series (to the Phillies).
As they did when clinching a playoff berth and the American League East title, the Rays held a much calmer, and drier, celebration than teams normally due, given the COVID-19 restrictions. The wildest they got in the clubhouse Wednesday was the usual postgame shoutouts from team leader Kevin Kiermaier — what Glasnow called “a little toast” — then shooting Silly String and popping confetti cannons.
"Just Silly String, a little dancing, stuff like that,'' Renfroe said. "Obviously can’t have alcohol, so that’s kind of terrible. But we did the Silly String and the little popper things. It was fun. We had a good time with it.''
Now they’re looking for more. And the Yankees are in their way.
Times staff writer Eduardo A. Encina contributed to this report.