Rays earn AL playoff spot with doubleheader sweep of Orioles

Tampa Bay Rays catcher Michael Perez, left, and relief pitcher Diego Castillo celebrate after defeating the Baltimore Orioles during the first game of a baseball doubleheader, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Baltimore. The Rays won 3-1. (Julio Cortez/AP)

BALTIMORE _ The Tampa Bay Rays clinched a return trip to the post-season, using a strong pitching performance to beat the Baltimore Orioles in the opener of a doubleheader before cranking up the offence in a 10-6 victory Thursday night that completed the sweep.

In the opener, Blake Snell and Diego Castillo combined on a three-hitter in a 3-1 win.

Needing a sweep to get into the AL playoffs for the second year in a row, the Rays got homers from Willy Adames, Hunter Renfroe and Joey Wendle before using a four-run fifth inning to take a 10-6 lead.

Earning a playoff berth was important to the Rays, but they’d like to enter as AL East champions before making a run deep into October. The sweep increased their lead over the second-place Yankees to 3 1/2 games.

“Just getting in was not what this team was built to do and certainly not something that we’re necessarily going to be satisfied with,” manager Kevin Cash said before the game.

As if to back up his point, the Rays held a subdued celebration on the field after the final out.

In the nightcap, Tampa Bay jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first inning when the slumping Adames connected with two on against lefty Bruce Zimmermann, who was making his major league debut.

Adames came into the game hitless in his last 15 at-bats and 2 for 36 in September.

The Orioles rallied to tie before the Rays got RBI singles from Nate Lowe and Kevan Smith in the fifth, followed by run-scoring fly balls from Wendle and Randy Arozarena.

Pete Fairbanks (5-3) pitched one inning to earn the win.

Zimmermann (0-1) gave up five runs in three-plus innings.

In the opener, Baltimore pulled even at 1 in the sixth before the Rays took control against Cesar Valdez (1-1). Arozarena drew a leadoff walk and took third on a double by Michael Perez.

Yoshi Tsutsugo followed with a soft grounder to the right side that produced a run _ even though the infield was drawn in _ and Brandon Lowe capped the uprising with a sacrifice fly.

Snell left with a 1-0 lead and a runner on second in the sixth. Castillo (3-0) subsequently yielded a tying, two-out RBI single to Ryan Mountcastle.

Snell allowed two hits in 5 1/3 innings, but his only walk _ to Pat Valaika leading off the sixth _ came around to score.

“The walk to Valaika was very frustrating,” said Snell, the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner. “That’s tough to see. I’ll probably have a nightmare tonight about it. I hate walks. I really just don’t like them.”

Orioles rookie right-hander Dean Kremer gave up three hits and three walks with six strikeouts. He has surrendered one run in each of his three major league starts.

The nightcap was the makeup of a game postponed on Aug. 27, when both teams decided not to play as a show of solidarity for victims of social injustice and systemic racism. Because the game was to be held in Tampa Bay, the Rays served as the home team and batted last in Game 2.

ROSTER MOVES

Rays: RHP Trevor Richards was 29th man for the doubleheader.

Orioles: RHP Asher Wojciechowski was designated for assignment. Wojciechowski started 16 games in 2019 but this season was 1-3 with a 6.81 ERA.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Rays: OF Austin Meadows left in the third inning of the opener with left oblique soreness and did not play in the second game. “I don’t think it’s that bad,” Cash said between games. “It was probably me being more cautious.”

UP NEXT

Rays: RHP Tyler Glasnow (3-1, 4.47 ERA) starts Friday night in the middle game of the five-game series. Glasnow had a career-high 13 strikeouts in his last start against Baltimore on Aug. 25.

Orioles: RHP Alex Cobb (1-4, 5.03) tries to break a four-game losing streak and earn his first victory at Camden Yards since joining the Orioles in 2018.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.