HOUSTON – Kevin Kiermaier says he knew all along that this year’s Rays were special. After Tampa Bay earned his second straight American League East title, shared a memory of the Rays’ first road trip of the season. They were in Boston, Kiermaier said, and he was having a drink with manager Kevin Cash in the coaches’ suite at his hotel.
“Cash asked me and said, ‘What is this group about?'” Kiermaier recalled Saturday night. “I said, ‘We’re going to be great. I promise. We get along really good. And there is a great vibe. I don’t know what it is. It’s been a week or so into the season, but we’re going to be really good. I promise you.’ And he just looked at me and said, ‘Okay,’ kind of like, ‘Prove it.’ And here we are. “
Here are the Rays, officially the the best team in the American League and the winningest regular-season club in franchise history, after beating the Astros, 7-0, Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park. Tampa Bay’s 98th win of the season surpassed the previous club record of 97, set by the 2008 team, and secured the Rays’ home advantage in the first two rounds of the postseason.
• Remaining games: 1 vs. Astros, 3 vs. Yankees
• Classification update: He took first place in the AL East on Saturday
• Home advantage update: Insured for AL Division Series and AL Championship Series
This is the third time the Rays have claimed the No. 1 seed in the American League, joining the short season of 2010 and last year, and they are the first American League club to do so in consecutive seasons since the Yankees 2011- 12. It was hardly in doubt, as Tampa Bay has held sole possession of the AL’s best record since Aug. 6, but the achievement was no less significant.
They made it official on Wednesday with an impressive performance in every way. Beginning Rasmussen drew he retired the first 12 batters he faced and allowed just one hit in five innings. Francisco Mejia drove in a run in the second, then Brandon Lowe threw his 35th home run of the season to right-center field off Astros starter Luis Garcia. In the fifth, Ji-Man Choi hit a three-run shot to right-center field to bolster the Rays’ lead.