For the first time since 2010, the Tampa Bay Rays are AL East champs. The Rays made it official Wednesday night, putting the finishing touches on their third division crown in franchise history with an 8-5 victory over the Mets. With MLB discouraging teams from elaborate, champagne-drenched celebrations (previously the industry standard for playoff-bound clubs like Tampa Bay) amid COVID, the Rays had to settle for a spirited post-game dance-off.
Here is outfielder Brett Phillips, best-known for his frequent fits of uncontainable laughter, getting his groove on outside Citi Field in Queens, cutting up a rug before tapping in teammate Randy Arozarena, who belted a pair of homers in Wednesday night’s clincher. Phillips may have the better dance moves, but as a fellow sneakerhead, I can attest that Arozarena’s shoe game (notice his fresh-out-of-the-box Jordan 11s) is on point.
Aside from their impromptu dance display on the Citi Field sidewalk, the Rays also cut loose with silly string, some choice stogies and plenty of confetti. “We’re little kids trapped in grown men’s bodies,” veteran Kevin Kiermaier told Jerry Beach of the Associated Press after Wednesday’s coronation. “It feels great to win the division, no matter what division you're in. But especially the American League East—it's just a different animal."
Despite glimpses from the Yankees, who are headed to October as one of the American League’s four Wild-Card teams, Tampa Bay’s standing atop the AL East was never in much doubt, particularly once a wave of midseason injuries set in for the Bombers. Despite an embarrassing -19 run differential, it appears the third-place Blue Jays—barring a collapse of epic proportion—will also be included in this year’s expanded postseason field.
Per Beach, the Rays, who are quickly closing in on the American League’s top seed (which would pit them against the eighth-seeded Astros in Round 1), boast the sport’s third-lowest payroll ahead of only the rebuilding likes of Baltimore and Pittsburgh. The loss was a costly one for the Mets, who dropped to a sluggish 25-31 for the year with Wednesday’s defeat. At this point, they’d need a miracle and a half to snag one of the NL’s last Wild Card berths (1.7% percent playoff odds heading into Thursday’s game in Washington).