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ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays looked pretty good again Friday in winning a second straight game, beating the Marlins 8-0.
Kind of like a division champion, which they could be as soon as Saturday night.
With their win and Boston’s loss, the Rays (95-59) expanded their American League East lead to seven games with eight to play, and they reduced their magic number for clinching a second straight and fourth overall division title to two.
That means if the Red Sox lose to the Yankees again Saturday afternoon and the Rays beat the Marlins again in their 6:10 p.m. game, they could spend the night popping bottles.
And Tampa Bay is looking forward to doing so, if not Saturday then no later than Sunday’s regular-season home finale.
“We know what’s at stake, and we know if we come to the field and handle our business, then we’ll be able to celebrate sooner than later,’’ said centerfielder and team leader Kevin Kiermaier. “And we want to do that as soon as possible.’’
And when they do, given the greater accomplishment of winning the East, they plan to celebrate harder and longer — and wetter and wilder — than their tame champagne toast Wednesday after clinching a third straight playoff berth.
“We celebrated the other day, but obviously this is the big one that we’re trying to accomplish — at least for the regular season,’’ pitcher Ryan Yarbrough said. “And I feel like we were unfortunately missing that a little bit last year. With COVID, we had all the restrictions, so I think everyone will be excited when we’ll able to do that.’’
Friday’s win was very much a team effort. The Rays scored early, then kept adding on, totaling at least seven runs for the majors-most 59th time (also doing so Wednesday) and pitching very well, logging their 12th shutout.
Randy Arozarena, named the team’s Outstanding Rookie by the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America before the game, got them off to a 3-0 lead in the first with bases-loaded double. That came after Ji-Man Choi walked with two outs, Nelson Cruz singled and Austin Meadows walked.
“That was the game right there, to open it up,’’ manager Kevin Cash said.
The Rays kept scoring. Kiermaier dropped a ball just inside the leftfield line for a two-run double in the fourth. Catcher Francisco Mejia, playing with team MVP Mike Zunino getting another day of rest, singled in two in the fifth. And Kiermaier tripled in a run in the seventh.
After a bit of a quiet stretch (coinciding with the absence of rookie shortstop Wander Franco, who returned Friday from the injured list), the offense seems to be clicking again.
“We believe in our guys. They’ve got a lot of confidence. They’ve got a lot of reason to have confidence,’’ Cash said. “And the hope always is it’s just a matter of time. And they’ve kind of backed that up here these last two wins.’’
After veteran reliever David Robertson worked the first inning as an opener, Yarbrough delivered a masterful six-inning outing, allowing two hits, striking out four and walking none (though hitting one). That was a continuation of his strong finish to his outing last Saturday, when he allowed four runs in the first two innings, then retired his final 13.
“It was very good to see him pick up right where he left off,’’ Cash said “He threw a couple more fastballs today and had the cutter, the changeup, the curveball, all kind of complementing each other. Picked up a big strikeout when he needed it to end an inning, and then also you saw a lot of popups, a lot of mishits. That’s kind of the Yarbs that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing, so it was very encouraging to see him get back into that rhythm.’’
The Rays have a lot to be encouraged, and excited, about.
Rays magic number
2 To win American League East Division.
Combination of wins by the Rays and losses by the second-place Red Sox
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