ST. PETERSBURG — It did not matter much what happened at Tropicana Field on Sunday afternoon, at least as far the Rays were concerned.
Rather, what took place in Buffalo and/or the Bronx would determine which team arrived in St. Pete for the best-of-three wild card series that commences Tuesday.
While the Rays’ 5-0 win over the Phillies was a nice way to cap an impressive 40-20 season, Baltimore’s 7-5 win over Toronto meant the Blue Jays finished as the No. 8 seed and will be on their way to the Trop to face top-seeded Tampa Bay.
As of early Sunday evening Tuesday’s game time had yet be announced.
A Toronto win coupled with a Yankees loss to Miami would have dropped New York into the eighth spot. The Yankees lost to the Marlins, but Baltimore’s win over the Blue Jays rendered that moot.
Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo, who starting in 1997, one year before the Rays’ inaugural season, spent 22 seasons in the Tampa Bay organization with the last four (2015-18) as bench coach under manager Kevin Cash.
“Myself and everybody in this organization have so much appreciation for Charlie and his family,” said Cash. “He is a great leader, a great manager and all those things. We are excited for him, but we will have to get past that and put our best foot forward starting Tuesday.”
The Rays went 6-4 against the Blue Jays this season, including 4-3 at the Trop.
Montoyo’s team features a crop of outstanding young players, including Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel, Jr.
“That’s an impressive group, a young group, an energetic group,” said Cash. “We will have our hands full.”
Anything can happen in a three-game series, but the Rays fought through injuries and consistently found a way to get the job done this season.
“We have a good team and we feel good about the opportunity that is in front of us,” said Cash.
As for Sunday’s game, the Rays completed the regular season winning four straight and nine of 11. The win also terminated the Phillies’ playoff hopes.
Rookie left-hander Josh Fleming threw six shutout innings (90 pitches) and the bullpen, with an inning each from Oliver Drake, Aaron Loup and Ryan Sherriff, did the rest in limiting Philadelphia to six hits.
Fleming, who arrived from the Rays’ alternate training site in Port Charlotte on August 23, finished 5-0 with a 2.78 ERA in seven appearances, including five starts.
Philadelphia needed a win along with losses by the Giants and Brewers in order to secure the final playoff spot in the National League. It was a tall order to have everything align, but the Giants lost to San Diego and the Brewers lost to the Cardinals. The only thing missing was a Phillies win. Joe Girardi’s team had nobody to blame but itself after being swept by the Rays and losing seven of their last eight.