ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Cash made it clear before Friday night’s game that finishing the regular season as the American League’s top seed would be a very nice thing.
“No. 1 seed means you have the best record in the American League and that is pretty special,” said the Rays manager.
So while the visiting Phillies are fighting for their playoff lives, the Rays have something to play for as well during this final weekend of the abbreviated 2020 season.
Joey Wendle’s clutch hit and defense and outstanding work by the bullpen lifted the American League East champs to a 6-4 win in the opener of a three-game series against Philadelphia.
The win, coupled with Oakland’s 3-1, 10-inning victory over Seattle, left the the Rays (38-20) needing one more win to secure the league’s best record and top seed.
“We want to win going into the postseason and create momentum,” said Cash, whose team trailed 4-1 going into the bottom of the fifth. “We are going to do everything we can to win (the rest of the weekend).”
With the score tied at 4-4 in the eighth, the Rays loaded the bases with one out against lefty Adam Morgan. With Mike Zunino due up, Phillies manager pulled Morgan in favor of right-hander Hector Neris.
Cash countered by sending up Brandon Lowe as a pinch-hitter. Lowe popped out to shortstop Didi Gregorius in shallow left, but Joey Wendle picked him up by delivering a two-run single to right that scored Yoshi Tsutsugo and Hunter Renfroe.
“Our goal is to be peaking when we go into the playoffs,” said Wendle, who in the top half of the inning had the defensive play of the game when he raced into shallow right and toward the line to snare a pop off the bat of Jean Segura. “Tonight we put up six runs and did what we needed to do to win.”
Seminole High product Brett Phillips, who started in right, tripled his hit total in a Rays uniform. The 26-year-old entered the game 1-for-15 since he was acquired from Kansas City on August 23, and 1-for-his-last-23 overall.
On Friday night Phillips went 2-for-2 and walked twice. His second-inning single scored Kevin Kiermaier to give the Rays a 1-0 lead and his solo home run in the sixth inning tied the score at 4-4.
“I feel like the luckiest man with how this season has gone,” he said, acknowledging how great it is to be a part of a division winner and going to the postseason for the first time in his career. “I feel so humbled and blessed to be here and be with this team now.”
Charlie Morton allowed all four Phillies runs (three earned) in five innings of work in his final start before the postseason. After striking out the side in the second he allowed three runs on as many hits in the third and a run in the fifth.
“I definitely didn’t feel as sharp in the third,” said Morton, who threw 93 pitches. “I think it’s that simple. I got into some bad counts. They put guys on and they capitalized. It was just not a good inning.”
Oliver Drake, Ryan Thompson, Nick Anderson and John Curtiss followed Morton by throwing a scoreless inning each. Anderson got the win and Curtiss, who will start Saturday night, picked up his second save by striking out the side in the ninth.
Saturday night’s scheduled first pitch (7:07) is about 30 minutes later to accommodate Fox’s national broadcast.