At the start of Thursday's doubleheader against the Baltimore Orioles, the Tampa Bay Rays needed a sweep to clinch a playoff berth in the American League. And sweep they did, clinching a playoff berth in two totally different games, winning the first in a pitchers' duel, 3-1 and the nightcap in a 10-6 slugfest.
Blake Snell pitched his best game of the season in game 1, giving the Rays momentum going into the second game.
Joey Wendle scored the first game's first run on a two-out triple by Brett Phillips, which was his first hit as a Ray.
From there, it was a pitchers' battle between Snell and Baltimore starter Dean Kremer until the sixth, when lead-off walks got both teams in trouble.
Holding a slim 1-0 lead in the sixth, Snell walked Baltimore lead-off hitter Pat Valaika, which cost Snell a decision, as Valaika came around to tie the game at 1 on a single by Ryan Mountcastle off Diego Castillo.
A lead-off walk to Randy Arozarena by reliever Paul Fry also cost the Orioles in the top of the seventh, and ultimately lost Baltimore the game. Michael Perez followed with a double, sending Arozarena to third, and then Yoshi Tsutsugo drove in Arozarena with a groundout to third, with the final run coming on a Brandon Lowe sacrifice fly.
Snell went five and a third innings, allowing only two hits, four strikeouts, and that lone walk to Valaika. Diego Castillo earned the win by getting the final five outs, including surviving an Orioles threat in the bottom of the seventh.
With the Rays using only two pitchers in game 1, the team was able to almost their full complement of pitchers for game 2, with the exception of Nick Anderson, whom Kevin Cash does not like to use on back-to-back days.
And would the Rays need some of those pitchers for Game 2, as in the 10-6 game 2 win, there was no resemblance to the first game.
Willy Adames, who struck out four times in the first game, quickly redeemed himself in the first inning by launching a three-run homer off Baltimore starter Bruce Zimmerman, who was making his major-league debut. The home run stopped a 4-for-32 skid for Adames, including 20 strikeouts.
The Orioles, however, clawed back slowly, with a solo home run by Hanser Alberto off Rays starter Trevor Richards in the second, and a Ryan Mountcastle RBI double in the third. Hunter Renfroe blasted a solo home run in the bottom of the third to extend the Rays' lead back to two. The Rays were the home team in the second game because of an earlier postponement at Tropicana Field.
Baltimore wasn't done, tying the game in the fourth on a two-run homer by Rio Ruiz off Richards. Ryan Thompson relieved Richards, and after striking out his first batter, he surrendered back-to-back singles to Cedric Mullins and Valaika. Then D.J. Stewart drove in two more with a double off Thompson, giving the Orioles a 6-4 lead.
But in the bottom of the fourth, Joey Wendle tied the game with a long two-run shot to right off Travis Lakins.
The Rays broke it open in the bottom of the fifth, as the Orioles used three pitchers. Again, it was a lead-off walk to Mike Brosseau by Orioles reliever Cole Sisler. After an Adames single, Nate Lowe drove in the game-winner with a single, knocking out Sisler.
With Dillon Tate in for Baltimore, Manuel Margot laid down a bunt single, loading the bases. A dribbler down the third-base line by Kevan Smith added another run for the Rays, and back-to-back sacrifice flies by Wendle and Arozarena gave the Rays their 10-6 win.
By pitching a scoreless fifth, Ryan Thompson earned his fifth win of the season; John Curtiss shut down Baltimore the last two innings, but did not earn a save.
Now that the Rays have clinched a playoff spot, they have their eyes set on the American League East division crown. They currently own a three-and-a-half-game lead on the New York Yankees, who once again defeated the Toronto Blue Jays Thursday, 10-7. The Rays' magic number to clinch the division is six.
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