NEW YORK — The thrifty Tampa Bay Rays have spent a decade trying to take down the big spenders in their division.
They'll have to wait at least one more night to put away the New York Yankees.
Pete Alonso and the New York Mets prevented Tampa Bay from clinching the AL East crown Tuesday, beating the Rays 5-2 behind three home runs and Seth Lugo's bounce-back pitching performance.
“It was a tough night. Obviously, we wanted to do it tonight,” Tampa Bay shortstop Willy Adames said. “We can do it tomorrow, it’s not a big deal.”
Robinson Canó, Alonso and newcomer Guillermo Heredia all homered for the Mets, desperately trying to stay in the National League playoff chase. New York (25-30) is 2 1/2 games out of the final spot with five games remaining and at least three teams to catch.
Tampa Bay's situation is much simpler. Already assured a second straight playoff berth, the Rays need just one win or a New York Yankees loss to secure their third AL East title — but first in 10 years. So they sent 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell to the mound Tuesday excited about wrapping things up in this pandemic-shortened season.
“It means the world. It does,” Gold Glove centre fielder Kevin Kiermaier, the longest-tenured Rays player, said before the game.
“It's always such a competitive division, year in and year out,” he added. “We really wanted to get over that hump and show people that we're a first-place team.”
Snell (4-2) struck out nine and threw a season-high 108 pitches over 5 2/3 innings in his last scheduled start before the playoffs. He gave up three runs and six hits, including solo homers by Canó and Alonso.
“Just got to be better. Can't pitch like that,” Snell said. “Just frustrating. I feel like I was in the zone a lot more than what was called.”
Meanwhile, the Yankees routed Toronto 12-1 — so Tampa Bay's party was put on hold despite playing some typically strong defence . Tyler Glasnow gets the ball in the series finale Wednesday night with another chance to clinch.
The Rays are 3 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees with four to play. New York has five games left.
The slumping Alonso, who entered batting .202, also had a run-scoring single with two outs in the sixth that made it 3-1. He finished with three RBIs.
“The only thing I can do is just keep being persistent. I feel like persistence will prevail,” Alonso said. “If I dwell on all the failures, I'll go nuts.”
Lugo (3-3) allowed two runs, one earned, and four hits in 6 1/3 innings as he rebounded from a dreadful start last week in Philadelphia. He struck out seven and walked one.
“One of the things that stands out from Seth is that he's mentally tough," Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “He did a tremendous job.”
Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve, who fanned all three batters in the eighth, provided scoreless relief before Edwin Díaz got three outs for his fifth save.
“We just couldn't get any type of rhythm going offensively,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Certainly would like to bounce back and see if we can get some life to our offence because it has been pretty quiet.
“I'm pretty confident we're going to be fine.”
Adames homered in the second, an opposite-field drive that reached the second deck in right. He also scored on a wild pitch in the seventh.
Cash said Snell is scheduled to start the team's first playoff game next Tuesday. Glasnow will follow, and then Charlie Morton if the best-of-three series goes the distance. All three would be on extra rest.
“I go into it with maybe a little bit more confidence than I did last year,” Glasnow said. “Just an exciting time.”
Rays: 1B Ji-Man Choi (left hamstring strain) and 3B Yandy Díaz (right hamstring strain) both took between five and seven at-bats against live pitching but did very minimal running, Cash said. Choi and Díaz still feel soreness, and a decision on their roster status for the first round of the playoffs next week could come down to the last minute. “It's not ideal. We're definitely not out of the woods, but we're making progress,” Cash said.
Mets: RF Michael Conforto (left hamstring tightness) was held out for a second consecutive night but was expected to be available off the bench. Conforto was feeling a lot better than Monday and could return to the starting lineup Wednesday, Rojas said.
Rays: Glasnow (4-1, 4.21 ERA) goes Wednesday night in Tampa Bay's final road game of the regular season. The 6-foot-8 righty is 4-0 in his last five starts and has 83 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings this season, a ratio of 14.55 per nine that leads the majors among pitchers who have thrown at least 50 innings. Glasnow struggled against the Mets with Pittsburgh, but hasn't faced them since joining the Rays.
Mets: RHP Michael Wacha (1-3, 6.75 ERA) starts New York's last home game of the season, with LHP Steven Matz (0-5, 9.79) potentially piggybacking in relief.
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Mike Fitzpatrick, The Associated Press