Rays unable to lock up AL East
Zobrist's two homers not enough to help club clinch division
DETROIT -- The Rays' American League East-clinching celebration will have to wait a bit longer.
The Rays missed their first opportunity of the day on Thursday to clinch the AL East when they lost a home run slugfest to the Tigers, 7-5, in front of a crowd of 36,259 at Comerica Park.
With a magic number of one -- meaning number of Rays wins or Red Sox losses totaling that number -- the Rays had a chance to clinch in the quiet confines of their suburban Detroit hotel if the Red Sox lost to the Indians on Thursday night, but Boston beat Cleveland, 6-1, postponing a potential Rays celebration for another day.
Given a long night of travel and short night sleep, the Rays gave a pretty good account of themselves on Thursday afternoon.
The travel and time of game "had an impact," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "You have to play under those circumstances regardless. I'm just basing it on how I feel. ... I would think our players felt that a bit, but we're not going to use that as an excuse. I think it had some relativity to the game, it was hot and we had zero sleep."
A home run derby took place on the field, and the Tigers won that contest -- as well as the game -- even though Ben Zobrist hit the first home run with one out in the first inning to put the Rays up, 1-0.
Scott Kazmir then surrendered leadoff home runs to the Tigers in the first, third, fourth and fifth innings to put the Rays behind, 4-1. Tigers leadoff hitter Ramon Santiago hit two off Kazmir to give him three for the season.
"Their leadoff hitter is not normally a home run hitter, and he hit those balls well," Maddon said. "They had a good sound when they left the bat. I knew they were home runs."
Kazmir allowed four earned runs -- all on home runs -- in five innings on six hits and eight strikeouts. He is now 2-4 with a 4.69 ERA in his career against the Tigers. The Rays left-hander clearly did not feel good about his outing nor his 2008 season for that matter.
"Just caps off, for me personally, a disappointing season," Kazmir said. "Just never really got in a groove, fighting myself all season, just shows it right here, another one today. ... Fortunately, we're in a good position right now, and hopefully, I can put everything behind me and do well in October and erase everything that happened."
In defeat, Kazmir dropped to 12-8 on the season with a 3.49 ERA.
"It's not the way I wanted to end the season to go into the postseason," Kazmir said. "But at the same time, my arm feels good. So that's always good. You just have to forget about what happened and just concentrate on what's ahead and that's the playoffs and October.
"It would have been great for us to clinch it and get it done with and look forward to the postseason. But I just didn't get the job done."
Evan Longoria connected for his 27th home run of the season in the seventh to cut the Tigers' lead to 4-2, but Detroit continued to swing the bats in a three-run seventh that featured a solo shot by Curtis Granderson, which accounted for the seventh home run of the game and gave the Tigers (72-86) a 7-2 lead.
Zobrist added a three-run homer in the eighth to cut the lead to 7-5. For Zobrist, the 424-foot blast to straightaway center field gave him 10 home runs on the season and the first multihomer game of his career.
"I just was hoping it would get over his head to be honest," Zobrist said. "I knew I hit it, but I really did not know I could hit a ball that way. Now that I know I can, it's a confidence booster. I just feel bad that we fell short today.
"I just feel really blessed to be on this team with what's going on right now," Zobrist said. "Everybody's got a really good attitude. I'm just fortunate to be a part of it, you know. I've hit a couple of balls well and done some things to help the team. I just feel really blessed."
The Rays (96-63) managed to bring the potential tying run to the plate with one out in the ninth inning, but Gabe Gross struck out looking for the second out and Eric Hinske went down swinging to end the game.
"We've always got something left in the tank at the end of the game, just a little bit too little, too late today," Longoria said.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.