Rays clinch playoffs but AL East remains in play

Securing the second playoff berth in franchise history is just a

start for the Tampa Bay Rays.

The AL East title is still on the line, and so is the best

record in the league. Both could be critical to getting back to the

World Series.

”Everybody knows how well we play at home, so we want to open

up here, that’s for sure,” 19-game winner David Price said after

pitching eight strong innings in Tuesday night’s 5-0 clincher over

the Baltimore Orioles. ”If I throw that first game, this is where

I want to throw it.”

The Rays, who made an improbable run to the World Series two

years ago with Price coming out of the bullpen to close out their

pennant-clinching win over Boston, retained a half-game lead over

the New York Yankees in the division.

Meanwhile, the Yankees also clinched a playoff spot with a 6-1

victory over Toronto.

”It’s different this year. I’m already looking forward to the

next goal, and that’s a good thing. It gets to the point where you

expect to be in the playoffs on an annual basis,” Rays manager Joe

Maddon said amid the celebration.

”The first time we talked about the magical moment, and I’m not

saying it isn’t still magical, but it’s a little more pragmatic in

a sense the second time through. I’m exalted in that moment, but

immediately I’m already thinking about what happens next.”

The magic number to clinch their second AL East crown in three

years is any combination of four Rays wins and Yankees losses.

Tampa Bay owns the tiebreaker after winning the season series

between the clubs 10-8.

Winning the division would mean starting the playoffs at home.

Finishing with the AL’s top record, which the Rays currently hold,

would mean homefield advantage in the AL championship series as

well.

”This is a tough division, so whenever you can get to the

playoffs you know you earned it,” All-Star Carl Crawford said.

”Tonight, enjoy this accomplishment,” Rays executive vice

president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. ”Tomorrow,

we’ll get back to work.”

Price scattered six hits over eight innings and allowed only one

runner past second base. The young left-hander struck out eight and

walked none after agonizing much of the day over a critical comment

he posted Monday night on Twitter, blasting the low attendance –

12,446 – for a potential clinching game Tampa Bay lost to

Baltimore.

”That was a nightmare. I knew if I didn’t throw well, I was

going to be done” with the fans, Price said.

”All day. Everything that led up to it was terrible,” Price

added. ”We want more fans here, obviously. We love our fans that

come, that’s not what I was saying last night.”

Tuesday’s crowd was announced as 17,891 – still about 5,000

below the Rays’ season average – but Price expressed his

appreciation during an on-field interview, repeatedly saying:

”Thank you, Thank you,” and waving his hat to the cheering

fans.

The celebration began with the players slipping on ”Playoff”

T-shirts and heading into the clubhouse before returning to the

field, where they sprayed fans, team employees, and even police

officers, with champagne.

Price wasn’t the only Rays All-Star who took some heat after

speaking out about low attendance on Monday night.

While the pitcher weighed in on Twitter, calling the turnout

”embarrassing,” third baseman Evan Longoria called it

”disheartening” and went into much greater detail.

”That was obviously something that I had thought about for a

long time, and coming into today I really didn’t want to talk about

it, again,” Longoria said.

”Obviously, everybody has their own opinion. But the one thing

I do want to say is, for the fans that have been coming out this

year, we’re happy that they have been here, and that’s the one

thing just moving forward from all this and not looking back, we

need to say thank you to the fans that have been here.”

Team president Matt Silverman announced before the game that the

Rays will make available 20,000 free tickets for Wednesday night’s

regular-season home finale against the Orioles, a decision the

executive said probably wouldn’t have been made if the players had

not spoken out.

Longoria said he had nothing to do with the giveaway.

”I came in today not knowing anything about it. It was brought

up to me and I think it’s great,” Longoria said. ”The more people

we can get in this building the better we play as a team. That’s

just not me saying that. Anyway they can get in it doesn’t matter

to me.”