DETROIT (AP)—The wait is over.
The Tampa Bay Rays won their first AL East title late Friday night when the Boston Red Sox lost to the New York Yankees. The Rays lost 6-4 to the Detroit Tigers earlier and had to sit through the rain-delayed Boston loss before celebrating their championship.
Manager Joe Maddon and a few of the players remained in the clubhouse at Comerica Park to watch the Red Sox game. Others watched it at Detroit’s MGM Grand and back at the team hotel.
“It’s one of those things where it’s something you’ve fantasized about your whole life,” Maddon said. “You can’t believe it. You have to kind of wait and sit back. It just feels fantastic right now, wonderful.”
“Unbelievable,” Pena said. “It just feels unbelievable.”
Tampa Bay, which had never won more than 70 games in a season, became the first team other than Boston and New York to win the division since Baltimore did it in 1997.
The Rays also became the first AL team in the divisional era to finish with the worst record in its league then win its division in the following year, according to Stats, LLC. Atlanta in 1991 and the Chicago Cubs in 2007 also accomplished the feat.
Their mantra was “98”—which essentially translates to nine players playing hard for nine innings every day equals one of eight postseason berths.
“We were definitely disappointed, it would have been nice to win it on the field,” Pena said after Tampa Bay’s loss.
Sheffield, who returned from a four-game suspension for fighting with Cleveland pitcher Fausto Carmona, has 499 career home runs.
“It wasn’t something I thought about,” Sheffield said about the 500-home run milestone.
Santiago homered for the third time in two days and Justin Verlander (11-17) won his first game since Aug. 22. He allowed two runs and five hits in five innings, walking three and striking out eight.
Upton homered and drove in two runs for the Rays.
Fernando Rodney pitched the ninth for his 12th save in 18 chances. He allowed a run on first baseman Miguel Cabrera’s error, but escaped a second and third, two-out jam by getting Jason Bartlett to fly out.
Andy Sonnanstine (13-9) gave up five runs and five hits in 5 2-3 innings for the Rays, walking five and striking out seven.
“A little erratic at the start,” he said. “And by the time I got things straightened out, it was to late.”
Detroit won despite losing Placido Polanco in the first inning, when the second baseman slid into home and sprained his left ankle.
He rolled over and writhed in pain after sliding across the plate and beating the tag by catcher Dioner Navarro. X-rays were negative and Polanco, hitting .307 with eight home runs and 58 RBIs, was scheduled to be re-evaluated Saturday.
Tampa Bay got on the board in the third on Upton’s fielder’s choice grounder, and Pena’s two-out RBI single in the fifth closed the gap to 5-2. Upton’s ninth homer of the season made it 5-3 in the seventh.
Sheffield added his second homer and 19th of the season in the eighth.
Tampa Bay reinstated OF Carl Crawford from the disabled list before the game. He missed 43 games with a right middle finger injury, suffered on Aug. 9. He had surgery on Aug. 14. He was used as a pinch runner in the ninth. … Magglio Ordonez has driven on 100 runs for the third straight season. He’s the first Tiger to do so since Cecil Fielder (1990-93).