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Rays wrap up first AL East crown since 2010

NEW YORK — Confetti instead of champagne. Silly string instead of beer.

The Tampa Bay Rays, long accustomed to doing more with less, figured out a way to maximize the division-clinching celebration they were allowed to enjoy during a 2020 season shortened by the coronavirus pandemic.

Randy Arozarena homered twice, and the Rays clinched their first AL East title in 10 years with an 8-5 victory over the New York Mets on Wednesday.

“I’m completely dry right now, which I’m not a huge fan of,” center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, the longest-tenured Rays player, said with a grin. “But you have to adapt to what we’re asked of.”

With teams instructed to celebrate in a muted and socially distant style, the Rays went old-school — or maybe elementary school — with their clinching party.

The team filed slowly onto the field after Nick Anderson fanned Andres Gimenez for the final out. A couple of players shot off canisters filled with confetti that eventually dotted the grass and dirt at Citi Field. Hugs and handshakes were exchanged before the Rays doused one another with silly string and lit cigars in the visiting clubhouse.

Later, hooting and hollering could be heard from the visitors dugout.

“We’re little kids trapped in grown men’s bodies,” Kiermaier said.

Joey Wendle and Brandon Lowe also went deep for the Rays to back Tyler Glasnow‘s six solid innings. Tampa Bay will be home at Tropicana Field for a best-of-three first-round playoff series beginning Tuesday.

This is the third division crown for the thrifty Rays, whose payroll this season is just over $28 million — more than only that of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles. Tampa Bay, which began play in 1998, also won the AL East, home of two big-spending powers in the Yankees and Red Sox, in 2008 and 2010.

“It feels great to win the division, no matter what division you’re in,” Kiermaier said. “But especially the American League East — it’s just a different animal.”

After missing a chance to clinch Tuesday, the Rays went into Wednesday needing a win or a Yankees loss to Toronto to lock up the division championship.

The Rays broke a 2-all tie in the sixth on Arozarena’s two-run homer off Michael Wacha and pulled away, taking care of business themselves while New York was routed 14-1 by the Blue Jays.

“At the end of the day, a clinch is a clinch,” said Wendle, who homered in the second. “But to do it on a win — everybody’s kind of riding the high of winning the game along with the division. We didn’t want to see it come down to them losing a game.”

Tampa Bay is closing in on wrapping up the top record in the AL and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

Lowe, who had an RBI fielder’s choice in the third, hit a two-run homer in the eighth. Willy Adames added an RBI single later in the inning, and Arozarena homered again in the ninth.

The insurance came in handy for the Rays when the Mets scored three times off Oliver Drake in the ninth — via an RBI groundout by Robinson Cano and a two-run homer by Todd Frazier — before Anderson closed the door.

“I think we had the game pretty much in control [and] certainly recognized what was going on in Buffalo, but I don’t know if you can ever prepare for a moment like that. It’s pretty special,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.

Glasnow allowed two runs on three hits and one walk with eight strikeouts.

Earlier Wednesday, Rays pitcher Charlie Morton sported a T-shirt picturing a stable of horses as he spoke with reporters during a pregame Zoom call. Morton did little to discourage the notion that the shirt was inspired by Cash’s viral rant earlier this month, when he declared that the Rays have “a whole damn stable full of guys that throw 98 mph” after Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman threw near Mike Brosseau‘s head in the ninth inning Sept. 4.

“The stable shirt?” Morton said. “It was in my locker last week, and I like horses.”

With a grin obviously growing behind his Rays mask, Morton said he rode horses as a kid.

“So I was ecstatic to see this shirt in my locker, and I wore it,” he said.

As for the fireballers on the Rays’ pitching staff?

“We’ve got some guys that throw really hard,” Morton said.

Rays left-hander Jose Alvarado (shoulder, lat) is scheduled to throw batting practice to third baseman Yandy Diaz (hamstring) and first baseman Ji-Man Choi (hamstring) on Thursday at Tropicana Field. Cash said all three players are progressing, and he hopes they are available for the playoffs.

Brousseau (oblique) missed a fourth consecutive game. Cash said he would have been available off the bench if needed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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