Having clinched their first playoff berth in franchise history, the Tampa Bay Rays aren’t about to settle for the wild card.
The AL East-leading Rays try to maintain momentum as they close a four-game series against the slumping Minnesota Twins on Sunday.
Tampa Bay (92-61) won for the fourth time in five games Saturday, beating Minnesota 7-2. Cliff Floyd and Fernando Perez each homered and Scott Kazmir pitched six scoreless innings as the Rays joined the Los Angeles Angels and Chicago Cubs in the postseason.
“I think every baseball player and every kid dreams of this day,” Evan Longoria said. “It’s a reality now.”
The Rays, who were 66-96 a year ago and had never won more than 70 games in any of their previous 10 seasons, joined the 1991 Atlanta Braves as the only teams to advance to the postseason a year after having the worst record in the majors. They are the second AL team—and 11th overall—to go from last place to the playoffs in successive years.
“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.”
Maddon’s team is now focused on winning the AL East, which would end a 10-year run by Boston and New York as that division’s winner. The Rays have a 2 1/2-game lead over the Red Sox, who lost to Toronto on Saturday.
“We’re in there now, but now we have to win the division and the best record because that stuff matters,” Maddon told the Rays’ official Web site.
After winning the opener of this series 11-8, Minnesota (83-72), which remained 2 1/2 games behind the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central, has been outscored 18-3 in losing the last two. It went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position Saturday.
Sunday is the final road game for the Twins, who are 6-15 on the road since Aug. 23. They’ll play their final six games at home, including a three-game series against Chicago beginning Tuesday.
“Seeing that kind of celebration just made me want to work even harder,” Minnesota right fielder Denard Span told the Twins’ official Web site. “It seemed like a good feeling for those guys. … It’s not over for us yet.”
Minnesota tries to bounce back behind Francisco Liriano (5-3, 3.62 ERA), who tries to recover from one of the worst outings of his career.
Liriano is 5-0 with a 2.15 ERA in nine starts since being recalled from Triple-A Rochester, although he is coming off a poor start against Cleveland on Tuesday. He lasted only 2 2-3 innings, allowing a career-high eight runs—four earned—and six hits in a 12-9, 11-inning loss.
The Twins are 1-4 in Liriano’s last five starts, scoring two or fewer runs of support in four of them.
Liriano defeated the Rays in his only lifetime start against them in 2006.
Andy Sonnanstine (13-7, 4.33) counters for Tampa Bay. He failed to register a decision in either of his last two starts, although he’s allowed only one unearned run in each. He pitched six innings against the Red Sox on Tuesday, allowing three hits while striking out five in Tampa’s 2-1 win.
“Sonnanstine was spectacular,” Maddon said. “That’s two games in a row that I’ve seen him about as good as I can imagine him.”
The right-hander has never faced the Twins.