ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It feels like the beginning of a New World Order here.
Tampa Bay cleaned Boston's clock in two out of three games, and not only does Tampa Bay now have a couple of Magic Numbers, but those Magic Numbers are extraordinarily, incredibly, impressively ... low.
Here's a sentence that's never before been typed:
Tampa Bay can clinch its first-ever playoff spot by winning two games this weekend against the Minnesota Twins.
The Rays' Magic Number to clinch a playoff spot is 3.
Their Magic Number to win the AL East title is 10.
You'd better believe they sense October is close enough to reach out and touch.
"Minnesota's coming in, and whatever our Magic Number is, we can do it in two days," reliever Grant Balfour, who out-dueled David Ortiz in a key fifth-inning at-bat Wednesday (Ortiz flied to center), said. "We can do it on Friday night. I think the guys know that.
"I think we're in good shape. I've got a feeling we're going to do it pretty quick."
Two wins over the Twins simply gets Tampa Bay an October ticket. But the Rays say they're still gunning to win the AL East title. By virtue of beating Boston on Wednesday, they win the season series against the Red Sox, which would give Tampa Bay the tiebreaker if the two clubs finish with the same record.
But Tampa Bay holds a two-game edge with 12 games left. Boston has only 10 games remaining.
A division title would come in handy, because the Rays have been incredible at home. They're 55-22 at Tropicana Field. And when fans actually show up, they're even tougher: They're 20-1 now in front of 30,000 or more fans at home, and they've got a 20-game winning streak after losing on Opening Day.
"That's great," Pena said. "It really has an effect on the players."
Manager Joe Maddon said he thought the fans were "a little bit more anticipatory. They were really into it even before the first pitch, and it was kind of nice."
The manager also said that the Rays will celebrate as soon as they clinch a playoff spot, even if the AL East title is still up for grabs.
"Sure, that would be cause for celebration, absolutely," Maddon said. "You look at where the Rays have come from. I'm into celebrating.
"If we get to that point sooner, we'll do it in the appropriate way."
Likes: One of Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon's things is to push for Meatloaf series wins. Huh? That's his funky way of preaching to his players the goal of winning two games of each three-game series. As in, you know, the old Meatloaf smash hit from the late 1970s: Two out of three ain't bad. The Rays have responded, too, they own a club-record 32 series wins, most in the majors, and they've lost only nine of their past 41 series. That kind of stuff will get you a division title. ... I hadn't been to Tropicana Field since 1999, and I still much prefer my baseball outdoors. But I will say, they've brightened the place up considerably since I've last been here. ... I figured the White Sox were a lock to win in Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night when, earlier in the day, I checked the pitching probables and saw the Sox were listing kid pitcher Lance Broadway as their starter. How can you go wrong in New York with a kid named Broadway? But alas, manager Ozzie Guillen went with Clayton Richard. And lost. Oops. ... Nice late-morning run on the Jefferson High School track -- home of such alums as Tony La Russa and Tino Martinez. But it is humid and sweltering here.
Dislikes: Milwaukee's Ben Sheets leaving Wednesday's game in Chicago with forearm stiffness. Not a good sign for the Brewers, who need every good fortune they can get down the stretch. ...Very noticeable how many political ads they're throwing on the television in the state of Florida -- at least, in the Tampa area. One after another, John McCain and then Barack Obama, then Obama and then McCain. And the negativity gets old, quick.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"You'll never find your gold on a sandy beach
"You'll never drill for oil on a city street
"I know you're looking for a ruby in a mountain of rocks
"But there ain't no Couple de Ville hiding
"At the bottom of a Cracker Jack box"
-- Meatloaf, Two Out of Three (Ain't Bad)