Rays beat Royals 4-0 to tighten AL East race

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)—Sometimes, Joe Maddon wishes he wasn’t so farsighted.

All season long as Tampa Bay, New York and Boston slugged it out in the AL East, the Rays’ manager said it would probably come down to the final day of the season.

And now it has.

Matt Joyce(notes) hit a two-run triple and eight pitchers combined on a shutout as Tampa Bay beat the Kansas City Royals 4-0 Saturday night, ensuring that the AL East race won’t be decided until Sunday.

“I didn’t necessarily want it to be that,” Maddon said. “I’d prefer having the division won. But that’s how it’s going. We’ll see what happens.”

Earlier in the day, the Yankees beat the Red Sox 6-5 in 10 innings in the first game of a doubleheader in Boston. Pending the outcome of the nightcap, the Yankees (95-65) held a half-game lead over the Rays (95-66). Both teams already clinched playoff spots.

At stake, however, is more than just the division title. The winner gets home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs.

“I want to throw at home. Hands down, for sure,” said Rays ace David Price(notes), who got a tuneup inning Saturday night and could start Game 1 on Wednesday. “We all do. We want to win the AL East and have home-field advantage.”

If the Rays and Yankees finish the regular season in a tie, Tampa Bay is the division winner because it won the head-to-head season series 10-8. The Yankees would get the wild card.

If the Rays win their second AL East title since 2008, they will start the best-of-five division series at home Wednesday against Texas. If the Yankees win the division, the Rays will travel from Kansas City to Minnesota on Sunday night and play the AL Central champion Twins beginning Wednesday.

“To be in this situation, I don’t think we’d have it any other way,” said Joyce, whose triple gave the Rays a 2-0 lead in the first. “Obviously, we would probably want to win the division earlier, but we’re not complaining. We know we’ve got a great team and we know what we have to do tomorrow.”

It’s the sixth time since divisional play began 41 years ago that the top two teams in the AL East were separated by a game or less heading into the final two days.

The win went to Chad Qualls(notes) (2-0), who threw only two pitches and got Josh Fields(notes) to ground into an inning-ending double play in the third.

The loss guaranteed Kansas City’s sixth last-place finish in the AL Central in 10 years.

“We’ve got enough talent right now to compete,” manager Ned Yost said. “But we need more talent to win. We’re in those games, but we struggle to win them. A little more talent and that turns the talent a little bit for us. We just need more talent to consistently win ballgames.”

Trailing 3-0, the Royals loaded the bases with nobody out in the third on Gregor Blanco’s(notes) single, Mike Aviles’(notes) double and a hit batter. After starter Andy Sonnanstine(notes) struck out Kila Ka’aihue(notes), Qualls got Fields to ground into a double play.

B.J. Upton(notes) and Carl Crawford(notes) singled off Kyle Davies(notes) (8-12) in the first inning and scored on Joyce’s triple. Crawford hit his career-best 19th home run off Davies with two outs in the third and Upton made it 4-0 with a sacrifice fly in the fifth.

Davies went 5 2-3 innings and ended his year giving up four runs on six hits.

Sonnanstine went 2 1-3 innings and gave up five hits.

NOTES: The Rays will finish the season with a winning record against every AL team but the Royals. … Tickets for the Rays’ first two home games of the AL division series are sold out. … The Royals picked up their $6 million option for 2011 on outfielder David DeJesus(notes). … The walk-up attendance of 6,124 was KC’s second-largest of the year.

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