ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays gathered in front of their dugout and posed for a celebratory team picture they’re hoping will not be the last they take this postseason.
Hunter Renfroe hit a grand slam and the top-seeded Rays won a postseason series for the first time in 12 years, overpowering the young Toronto Blue Jays 8-2 Wednesday to finish a two-game sweep of their wild-card matchup.
Tampa Bay advanced to play the rival New York Yankees in a best-of-five AL Division Series beginning Monday in San Diego.
With a roster featuring just a handful of players who have posted impressive resumes so far, the AL East champs believe they’re nowhere near finished.
“We’ve been confident since Day One. So if we put the our heads down and just do what we’ve been doing and prepare like we’ve been preparing, the sky’s the limit,” winning pitcher Tyler Glasnow said.
Said manager Kevin Cash: “We have very good players first and foremost.”
“I understand the back of the baseball card stuff and some of our guys are not as established,” he said. “What we do have, what makes it formidable is that the entire roster is used to help us win games. We do that consistently during the season and are definitely going to do it in the postseason.”
Renfroe launched the first playoff grand slam in franchise history during a six-run second inning. Glasnow kept Tampa Bay ahead from there, allowing two runs – on a pair of homers by Danny Jansen – in six innings.
The next round will be played at Petco Park in San Diego. Renfroe is plenty familiar with the stadium – he hit 85 home runs in the previous three years for the Padres before being traded to the Rays last December.
“The opportunity in front of us is where you want to be,” Cash said.
The Rays celebrated with some hugs and handshakes after the final out.
On deck are the fifth-seeded Yankees, who finished a two-game sweep of Cleveland with a wild 10-9 victory early Thursday. Tampa Bay went 8-2 in a testy season series against New York this year and won the AL East by seven games over the second-place Yankees.
Glasnow, who walked one and struck out eight before a small gathering of family and friends who were allowed to attend the series at Tropicana Field.
Ryu was rocked for a season-high seven runs in 1 2/3 innings, the lefty’s shortest outing of the season for the wild-card Blue Jays.
It was a disappointing finish for Toronto, which overcame a slow start to make a surprising run to its first playoff berth since 2016 with a roster featuring 19 players without previous major league playoff experience, including Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
“Great season. I’m proud of my kids to make it to this point,” second-year Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said.
“It’s obvious that the Rays are a pretty good team, that’s why they’re picked to go to the World Series,” he said. “In this series, we didn’t hit. We only scored three runs. That’s not enough to beat that team.”
The Rays, who won the opener 3-1 with a nice mix of pitching, defense and timely hitting, had dropped five consecutive multigame postseason series dating to the 2008 World Series.
A year ago, they beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before losing to Houston in the division round – a five-game setback that nevertheless heightened team expectations heading into this season.
Ryu signed with the Blue Jays in free agency last winter after being an All-Star with the Los Angeles Dodgers and finishing second in NL Cy Young Award balloting in 2019.
The 33-year-old lefty had the AL’s fourth-best ERA this season. And, his career mark of .295 is third-best behind Clayton Kershaw (2.43) and Jacob deGrom (2.61) among active pitchers with at least 700 innings pitched.
Ryu’s impressive credentials meant nothing Wednesday.
The Rays began the first inning with three straight hits and scored their first run on Manuel Margot’s one-out single. Ryu escaped a bases-loaded jam by striking out Willy Adames, however his outing got worse the next inning.
After Zunino’s homer made it 3-0, Tampa Bay loaded the bases again on a double, walk and shortstop Bo Bichette’s second error of the day.
Renfroe, obtained from San Diego in an offseason trade that sent Tommy Pham to the Padres, hit his grand slam into the left field seats to extend the lead to 7-0.
“They were getting hits off all my pitches. I don’t think they were necessarily sitting on one or something like that,” Ryu said through a translator. “I just didn’t have a good game.”
“We have a lot to be proud of, we really do,” Jansen said. “We knocked on the door and next year we’re going to be ready to go through it.”
Blue Jays: 1B Rowdy Tellez, who had a pinch-hit single in Game 1 Tuesday, remained out of the starting lineup. He was placed on the 10-day IL on Sept. 9 with a right knee sprain and missed the rest of the regular season.
Rays: INF Yandy Diaz (right hamstring strain) started at third base, his first game since Aug. 31.
The Rays will play in the AL division round for the sixth time in franchise history, with all of the appearances coming since 2008.