After taking a 6-4 loss to the Tigers on Friday night in front of a crowd of 39,617 at Comerica Park, the Rays were crowned division champs early Saturday morning after the Yankees defeated the Red Sox with a lopsided win at Fenway Park.
"[It] would have been nice to have won it on the field," Cliff Floyd said. "But any way you get in, you get in. You don't back in with 96 wins. We're here. Nobody wants to play us in the playoffs."
Few could have expected this outcome, which has seen the team go from worst to first. The highest finish the Rays had prior to this season came in 2004, when they won 70 games during a fourth-place campaign.
Tampa Bay turned in its green uniforms and changed its name from "Devil Rays" to "Rays" prior to the 2008 season. And ultimately, it changed the face of the franchise by being cast in the winner's circle.
The Rays' Division Series playoff opponent will shake out in the final weekend of the season. Winning the AL East assured the Rays they will begin the playoffs at home against the winner of the AL Central -- either the Twins or the White Sox -- while Boston, the Wild Card winner, will head to Anaheim to play the Angels, who will finish with the AL's best record. The Angels chose Wednesday to begin their series against the Red Sox, meaning the Rays will open on Thursday.
The Rays dug themselves into an early hole Friday night when Magglio Ordonez laced a two-run double and Gary Sheffield belted a solo home run in the first inning to put the Tigers up, 3-0.
Ramon Santiago, who hit two home runs against Tampa Bay on Thursday, added a two-run homer in the second off Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine, giving Santiago four home runs on the season while staking the Tigers to a 5-0 lead.
"Very [disappointing]," said Sonnanstine of not being able to nail down the clinching game. "I felt like I let the team down, in a sense, today, and [I'm] just thankful that I'll have another game to pitch at some point in the postseason."
The Rays got on the scoreboard in the third when Jason Bartlett scored on a fielder's choice. They scored again in the fifth on Pena's RBI single to cut the lead to 5-2.
B.J. Upton hit his ninth home run of the season in the seventh off former Rays left-hander Bobby Seay to pull Tampa Bay to within two. The Rays were unable to cash in on a golden opportunity in the eighth, when they loaded the bases with two outs, but Pena's liner to center field couldn't find a hole, ending the threat.
"You know what, that's something I noticed today," Pena said. "We swung the bats pretty well, we really did. We didn't catch the breaks. Not only my ball -- I hit that ball on the screws -- there were a few balls that could have dropped that did not, that was the story. We talk about momentum. When you've got the momentum shift, those balls start dropping. It was shifting toward the end, but we just came up a little short."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.