Minnesota at Tampa Bay

Scoreboard
Minnesota (83-72)000000002270
Tampa Bay (92-61) «00203110x7112

Rays make history, clinch franchise's first playoff berth

CBSSports.com wire reports
  •  

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The playoffs beckoned, and just as they've handled other challenges this season, the Tampa Bay Rays took a leap forward.

The AL East leaders clinched the first postseason berth in franchise history Saturday, beating the Minnesota Twins 7-2 and making Scott Kazmir look like a genius for boldly proclaiming during spring training that the perennial last-place team was good enough to play in October.

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"I knew we had something here. I knew we had the depth. I knew we had the pitching," Kazmir, drenched in champagne and beer, said. "I knew we had everything. We just had to put it together, and we did."

Carlos Pena hit a two-run double and Kazmir rebounded from the worst start of his career to pitch six scoreless innings as the Rays, who never won more than 70 games in a season before this year, wrapped up at least a wild-card spot.

Cliff Floyd and Fernando Perez capped the biggest win in the club's 11 seasons with solo home runs. The Rays also extended their lead in the division to 2½ games over Boston, which lost 6-3 at Toronto.

"It's so special how we've come together. The way we've changed things here so dramatically is remarkable," third-year manager Joe Maddon said. "We went from being down to being the most unified team out there."

The players, many sporting mohawk haircuts they say is a display of how close the club is, danced around the clubhouse, spraying each other with champagne and beer. At one point, they took the party out to the field, where thousands of fans were watching the celebration on a big television screen.

The Rays wore playoff T-shirts bearing the team's mantra: "98" which essentially translates to nine players playing hard for nine innings every day equals one of eight postseason berths.

Tampa Bay, 66-96 a year ago, joined the 1991 Atlanta Braves as the only teams to advance to the postseason a year after having the worst record in the majors. It's the second AL team -- and 11th overall -- to go from last place to the playoffs in successive years.

"This is pure emotion -- a team, an organization that has been challenged, that has been questioned, and we've answered all the questions," team president Matt Silverman said. "And now, it's time to move on and see where else we go can go."

The first order of business is trying to win the division. The Rays have the best home record in the majors (57-23), and still have a chance to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The crowd of 36,048 that packed Tropicana Field stood for entire ninth inning, chanting "Let's Go Rays" and clanging cowbells. The Twins delayed the celebration by scoring twice, but the party was on once third baseman Evan Longoria chased down Joe Mauer's foul pop for the final out.

"I think every baseball player and every kid dreams of this day," Longoria said. "It's a reality now."

The struggling Twins, who have lost six of seven, began the day 2½ games behind the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox, who were at Kansas City on Saturday night. They trail the Red Sox by 7½ in the wild-card race.

"It was pretty much their day. It's well-deserved," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They play the game the right way. They hustle. They have a lot of talented people on that squad."

Tampa Bay could have clinched without winning if the White Sox and New York Yankees each lost once during the weekend.

But Maddon and his players had made it clear they preferred to take care of their own business.

"That's been the motto all year," Floyd said. "Take care of ourselves and you don't have to worry about anything else."

Pena's double off Kevin Slowey (12-11) gave Kazmir a 2-0 lead in the third inning. The Rays added three more in the fifth on Longoria's RBI double, Dioner Navarro's run-scoring single and pinch-hitter Rocco Baldelli's bases-loaded walk.

Perez homered off Dennys Reyes in the sixth and Floyd, one of the veterans brought in last winter to provide leadership in a young clubhouse, went deep in the seventh against Matt Guerrier.

In some ways it was fitting that Kazmir (12-7) started the game that assured the first playoff berth.

At 24, he's a two-time All-Star and already the club's career wins leader. And more than a few people snickered when he made his bold preseason declaration about the team's talent level.

"It couldn't have been a better setting," Kazmir said. "But I'll tell you what. I couldn't do it without the bats that we had tonight. We just show a lot of heart, every day -- day in, day out."

Boston roughed up the Rays ace during a 13-5 win over Tampa Bay last Monday, but the left-hander was a different pitcher against the Twins, allowing just five hits.

Minnesota loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth when Mauer singled, Justin Morneau doubled and Michael Cuddyer was hit by a pitch.

But Kazmir, who matched a career high by allowing nine runs in three-plus innings against Boston, escaped. He got some help from Morneau, who was caught off second after Delmon Young flied out to swallow center field for the first out.

The Rays lost their shutout in the ninth when Troy Percival surrendered an RBI single to Denard Span before being replaced by Trever Miller. Alexi Casilla's run-scoring groundout made it 7-2 before Miller retired Mauer to start the celebration.

"It's an incredible feeling. This is what you come to spring training for," Longoria said. "We're going to be one of eight teams in the playoffs. It's awesome."

Notes

  • Mauer's fourth-inning single gave him a 10-game hitting streak.
  • The sellout was the seventh at Tropicana Field this year. Sunday's game is also sold out, giving the Rays full houses for consecutive games for the only the second time in club history.
  • With 98 RBI -- 51 since the All-Star break -- Pena is two shy of joining Fred McGriff and Aubrey Huff as the only players to drive in 100 twice for Tampa Bay.
  • Rays CF B.J. Upton, out since Sept. 8 with a strained left quadriceps, pinch hit in the fourth inning and remained in the game.
 
Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
 
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The beaming Rays celebrate their playoff berth with their jubilant fans after the game.   (AP)
The beaming Rays celebrate their playoff berth with their jubilant fans after the game. (AP)

Players of the Game
Tampa Bay

C. Floyd
AB 3
R 1
H 2
HR 1
RBI 1
Tampa Bay

S. Kazmir
IP 6.0
H 5
ER 0
BB 1
K 5
 

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Minnesota Twins
Denard Span, RF5011002 .300
Alexi Casilla, 2B4011110 .293
Joe Mauer, C5020002 .329
Justin Morneau, 1B4010012 .310
Michael Cuddyer, DH1000201 .250
Delmon Young, LF4010022 .289
Brendan Harris, 3B3100114 .261
Nick Punto, SS4000024 .283
Carlos Gomez, CF3110110 .255
Totals3327258  
Batting
2B - Justin Morneau (46, Kazmir)
RBI - Denard Span (42), Alexi Casilla (48)
Team LOB - 10
Fielding
DP - Punto-Casilla-Morneau
Minnesota Twins
Kevin Slowey (L,12-11) 4.1955330 3.85
Dennys Reyes 1.2111131 2.40
Matt Guerrier 2111011 4.89
IBB - Floyd by Kevin Slowey
Pitches-Strikes - Kevin Slowey 103-66, Dennys Reyes 24-12, Matt Guerrier 23-14
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Kevin Slowey 3-6, Dennys Reyes 1-0, Matt Guerrier 3-2
Batters Faced - Kevin Slowey 24, Dennys Reyes 6, Matt Guerrier 7
Tampa Bay Rays
Akinori Iwamura, 2B4110110 .276
Jason Bartlett, SS4110011 .280
Carlos Pena, 1B3112120 .249
Evan Longoria, 3B4111001 .281
Cliff Floyd, DH3121100 .280
Dioner Navarro, C4031000 .292
Gabe Gross, RF2000003 .249
   a- Rocco Baldelli, PH-RF1001110 .258
Eric Hinske, LF2110002 .245
   b- B.J. Upton, PH-CF2000001 .273
Fernando Perez, CF-LF4111023 .244
Totals33711747  
a-walked for Gross in the 5th
b-grounded into a double play for Hinske in the 5th
Batting
2B - Jason Bartlett (22, Slowey), Carlos Pena (23, Slowey), Evan Longoria (30, Slowey), Dioner Navarro (25, Slowey)
HR - Cliff Floyd (11, Guerrier), Fernando Perez (3, Reyes)
RBI - Carlos Pena 2 (98), Evan Longoria (82), Cliff Floyd (38), Dioner Navarro (50), Rocco Baldelli (10), Fernando Perez (6)
2-OUT RBI - Carlos Pena 2 (31)
CS - Akinori Iwamura (6, 2nd base by Slowey/Mauer)
Team LOB - 6
Fielding
Outfield Assists - Fernando Perez 1
DP - Perez-Pena-Bartlett, Bartlett-Iwamura-Pena
E - Rocco Baldelli (1, Throwing), Jason Bartlett (16, Throwing)
Tampa Bay Rays
Scott Kazmir (W,12-7) 6500150 3.36
Grant Balfour 1100120 1.49
J.P. Howell 1000210 2.29
Troy Percival 0.1120100 4.85
Trever Miller 0.2000000 4.54
HBP - Cuddyer (by Scott Kazmir)
Pitches-Strikes - Scott Kazmir 93-59, Grant Balfour 23-12, J.P. Howell 25-11, Troy Percival 18-8, Trever Miller 7-4
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Scott Kazmir 4-7, J.P. Howell 1-1, Troy Percival 1-1, Trever Miller 1-1
Batters Faced - Scott Kazmir 23, Grant Balfour 5, J.P. Howell 5, Troy Percival 4, Trever Miller 2
Game Information
Attendance - 36048
Game Time - 3:26
Temperature - 72
Umpires - Home - Mike DiMuro, First Base - Gerry Davis, Second Base - Larry Vanover, Third Base - Mike Everitt