HOUSTON — Kevin Kiermaier says he knew from the start that this year’s Rays were special. After Tampa Bay clinched its second straight American League East title, he shared a memory from 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 their hotel.
“Cash asked me, he said, ‘What’s this group about?’” Kiermaier recalled Saturday night. “I said, ‘We’re going to be great. I promise you. We get along great. And there’s just a great vibe. I don’t know what it is. It’s a week or so into the season, but we’re going to be really good. I promise you that.’ And he just looked at me and said, ‘OK,’ kind of like, ‘Prove it.’ And here we are.”
Here the Rays are, officially the top team in the AL and the winningest regular-season club in franchise history, after beating the Astros, 7-0, on 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 guaranteed the Rays home-field advantage in the first two rounds of the postseason.
• Games remaining: 1 vs. Astros, 3 vs. Yankees
• Standings update: Clinched first place in the AL East on Saturday
• Home-field advantage update: Clinched for AL Division Series and AL Championship Series
This is the third time the Rays have claimed the AL’s No. 1 seed, joining 2010 and last year’s shortened season, and they are the first AL club to do so in consecutive seasons since the 2011-12 Yankees. It was hardly in question, as Tampa Bay has held sole possession of the AL’s best record since Aug. 6, but the accomplishment was no less meaningful.
They made it official on Wednesday with an impressive all-around performance. Starter Drew Rasmussen retired the first 12 hitters he faced and allowed just one hit in five innings. Francisco Mejía drove in one run in the second, then Brandon Lowe blasted his 35th home run of the season out to right-center off Astros starter Luis Garcia. In the fifth, Ji-Man Choi clubbed a three-run shot to right-center field to pad the Rays’ lead.