Wednesday turned out to be a special day for the Tampa Bay Rays when they beat the Toronto Blue Jays, but the American League East leaders are expecting more to come in 2021.
The Rays (94-59), who secured a playoff berth for the third consecutive season, face the Miami Marlins (64-88) on Friday in St. Petersburg, Fla., to open a three-game series.
In beating the Blue Jays for the 11th time in 19 games, the Tampa Bay organization was able to do something it had not done in almost 10 years — celebrate a clinching win in front of its fans.
They last did it on Sept. 28, 2011, when former third baseman Evan Longoria lashed one of the most memorable homers in club history.
Tied 7-7 in the 12th inning of Game 162 against the visiting New York Yankees, Longoria sent the Rays to the AL Wild Card Game with a walk-off liner down the left field line that just cleared the 315-foot mark of the low fence.
Wednesday’s celebration before a matinee crowd of 10,994 was as modest as the number of fans in the seats.
“We recognize that getting in is really tough — we don’t want to discredit that — but also want to realize we have games left and something to play for and we’ll continue to do that,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
The Sunshine State teams opened 2021 against each other in South Florida with high hopes, but only the Rays have lived up to expectations.
Last season, Miami participated in the postseason for the first time since its World Series title in 2003, but this campaign in an underwhelming National League East has been a dispiriting follow-up — the Marlins slot fourth, barely ahead of the last-place Washington Nationals.
In April in Miami, they dropped two of three to the Rays — beginning the AL visitors’ worst month, in which they finished 13-14.
With surprise starter Luis Patino tossing three shutout innings in Wednesday’s 7-1 series-clinching win over Toronto, Cash said he and his staff would discuss their mound options for Friday’s series opener but did not name a starter.
He announced that rookies Shane McClanahan and Shane Baz would start the final two games of the series.
The Marlins have been buoyed by the exciting showing of catcher Nick Fortes, who Wednesday belted his third homer in 11 plate appearances to become just the 40th major leaguer to go deep three times in his first five games.
Fortes, 24, is 6-for-10 with three homers, four runs, five RBIs and a walk.
“It’s good to see that, and it’s kind of the reason that you want to get these guys here to see what it looks like,” manager Don Mattingly said. “Get him some playing time, get him some experience, so your front office can make decisions.”
Much heralded rookie Edward Cabrera (0-2, 5.31) will make his sixth career start and first against Tampa Bay on Friday.
The right-handed Cabrera, 23, has been feast-or-famine since being called up by the Marlins and making his major league debut against the Washington Nationals on Aug. 25.
The 6-foot-5 Dominican — who has a fastball that flirts with triple digits — has fanned 16 batters in 20 1/3 innings but issued 13 walks and surrendered five homers.
–Field Level Media