April 21, 2024

BOSTON — Champagne sprayed, cigar smoke wafted through the air and the Tampa Bay Rays passed around a fancy glass decanter of liquor while hip-hop music blared from the speakers in the visitor’s clubhouse at Fenway Park.

It was time to celebrate.

What they were celebrating wasn’t exactly obvious.

The Rays donned ski goggles, covered their lockers with plastic and danced a victory dance for the traditional party that comes when a baseball team clinches a spot in the postseason. There was just one minor quibble: They didn’t clinch anything at all by beating the Boston Red Sox 5-0 on Wednesday night.

“I know it’s different,” manager Kevin Cash said. “I just told the guys, ‘We’re different. We’re the Rays.'”

The Rays clinched a playoff berth on Sept. 17, when they twice had the Orioles down to their last out before Baltimore won on an 11th-inning sacrifice fly. (It didn’t matter, because the Texas Rangers‘ loss that day assured Tampa Bay of no worse than a wild-card spot.)

But rather than celebrate after a defeat, the Rays made plans to celebrate in Boston on Wednesday — taking advantage of Thursday’s off day to sleep it off.

“Not everyone gets the opportunity,” said Tyler Glasnow, who struck out nine in five shutout innings in his final regular-season start. “And I think anytime you’re able to win any sort of playoff thing, you’ve got to celebrate.”

So there the Rays were, whooping it up 10 days after their actual clincher.

“Sunday was challenging,” Cash said. “I think we’ve got to try to appreciate the mood of the clubhouse a little bit. Right or wrong, we felt like there was going to be a time at some point.”

The Rays won their 97th game, tied for second-most in franchise history, and still have a slim chance at the AL East title: Baltimore (99-59) has a magic number of one to clinch.

“When we clinched … in Baltimore — tough game to clinch on. But it doesn’t make it any less special right now,” said Rays general manager Peter Bendix, who was drenched in champagne and beer in the clubhouse.

“Every time you make the playoffs, it’s a really cool thing. And it might be the last time for anybody in this room,” he said. “And so when you make the playoffs, that’s an accomplishment that you celebrate. It’s a little weird that we’re celebrating tonight but, in my opinion, it’s the right thing to do. And I think the guys are having a great time.”

The Rays, who have reached the postseason five consecutive seasons, are hoping for four more celebrations this fall.

“Getting to the playoffs, that’s what this signifies,” infielder Yandy Diaz said. “The most important part is getting to the World Series, so we can keep celebrating.”

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