ST. PETERSBURG — Talking to a number of Rays after they clinched the American League East title Saturday night, there is a lot of confidence that this group is good enough to win the franchise’s first World Series.
“Pretty good,” pitcher Shane McClanahan said. “Pretty dangerous. I wouldn’t want to face us.”
They already are positioned with six games remaining to be the most successful team in franchise history through regular-season play. Sunday’s win was their 97th of the season, matching the previous high set by the 2008 team that broke through to start the team’s run of success.
“It’s great for this team,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Certainly have a ton of respect for the 2008 team. That’s when the Rays really got things turned around in the right direction, had a special season. To be mirrored with them right now is pretty reflective of two very talented teams.”
Home success was key for both: The 2008 squad was 58-23; this year’s was 52-29. With three more wins, the current group would be the 22nd AL team in the past 40 years to get to 100.
Also of note, the Rays are heading to the Division Series, which will open Oct. 7 at Tropicana Field, for the seventh time since 2008; only the Dodgers (10), Yankees (eight) and Cardinals (seven) have been as or more often.
Lucky number 14
As Nick Anderson works his way back into game form following his 5½-month rehab from a spring elbow ligament tear, the Rays wanted to get him a higher-leverage opportunity. Sunday, they gave him the ninth inning with a 3-1 lead. He gave up a leadoff home run, then got three straight outs to become the MLB record-extending 14th Ray with a save.
“Wanted to see if we could line him up to get him in a spot (with) a little more intensity,” Cash said. “His stuff looked pretty good. We know one thing about Nick is that he can control his emotions as well as anybody, doesn’t matter if it’s the sixth or ninth. He’s been in every big situation that we’ve been a part of. And just so appreciative of Nick’s efforts.”
Lefty Josh Fleming made his first appearance in his new short relief role and looked good, retiring all four batters he faced.
Carolina on their minds
The idea to use a Zoom video connection to link the Triple-A Durham players into the Rays clubhouse-clinching celebration Saturday night came from general manager Erik Neander and was well received by both groups.
“They’re an extension of us,” bullpen coach Stan Boroski said. “We don’t see it as just a Triple-A team, but an extension of what goes on here. They’re very in tune with what goes on with us on a daily basis, we’re very in tune with what goes with them on a daily basis. So to be able to have them virtually in the clubhouse with us last night was very special for a lot of people.”
⋅ Wander Franco’s first-inning double extended his on-base streak to 41 games, two from matching Hall of Famer Frank Robinson’s 43 for the 1956 Reds, the most for any player 20 and younger.
⋅ The Rays drew 20,826 on Sunday after a season-high 23,783 the day before, and Cash said it makes a big difference: “The crowds have been awesome. They help a lot. They energize the dugout. Our players love to play in front of our fans. ... I’m guessing this place is going to be rocking here in about 10 days.”
⋅ Reliever Matt Wisler felt good after testing his previously inflamed right middle finger with a 25-pitch bullpen session, including sliders, and could be activated Tuesday. Reliever Andrew Kittredge (neck tightness) is also due back then.
⋅ The series sweep was the Rays’ 14th of the season, second most in the majors behind the Dodgers’ 15.
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