KANSAS CITY, Mo. – With the AL East championship already in hand, the Tampa Bay Rays outlasted the Kansas City Royals 3-2 in 12 innings Sunday to head into the playoffs on a winning note.
Manager Joe Maddon's team learned it had clinched the division title and home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs in the ninth inning when New York lost at Boston 8-4, and the Rays briefly exchanged high-fives in the dugout.
"It took a little of the tension off," Maddon said. "We wanted to win this game. How 'bout that? Extra innings, on the road, didn't need to win. It tells you something about our ballclub."
The Yankees and Tampa Bay began the day tied at 95-66, with both teams already assured of postseason spots. To win the division, New York needed to finish ahead of the Rays, who held the tiebreaker after winning the season series 10-8.
Tampa Bay will start the playoffs at home Wednesday against AL West champion Texas. The Yankees are the wild card and open Wednesday at AL Central champion Minnesota.
Carlos Pena hit a tying, two-run double in the ninth for the Rays.
Pinch-hitter Rocco Baldelli singled with one out in the 12th off rookie Dusty Hughes (1-3) and stole second. Baldelli scored when Kelly Shoppach hit a grounder through the legs of third baseman Wilson Betemit, who was charged with an error.
When closer Rafael Soriano finished off the Royals for his AL-leading 45th save in 48 chances, the Rays streamed onto the field to celebrate.
"We wanted to take matters into our own hands," Pena said.
The Rays are not exactly barreling into postseason on a hot streak. Since clinching a postseason berth Tuesday with a 5-0 victory over Baltimore, the Rays are 2-5 and have scored only nine runs. In their last seven games, they were shut out three times.
As the Royals kept shutting down the offensively slumping Rays throughout the cool breezy afternoon, the Rays kept one eye on the scoreboard were heartened to see Boston slowly pulling away.
Alex Gordon's two-run homer off Wade Davis gave the Royals a 2-0 lead in the fourth and Joakim Soria came on for what would have been his 44th save in 46 opportunities.
But the All-Star closer gave up a leadoff single to Carl Crawford and a one-out single to Matt Joyce before Pena's double into the left-field corner. It was Soria's first blown save since May 6 and the first runs he had allowed in 24 straight innings.
Jeff Niemann (12-8) struck out all three batters he faced in the 11th to pick up the victory.
Davis went seven innings and was charged with two runs on three hits, while striking out six.
The Rays loaded the bases in the second, but failed to score as Sean O'Sullivan struck out Dioner Navarro to end the inning. O'Sullivan held the Rays to two hits in six scoreless innings.
NOTES: The Rays tied a major league record Saturday night using eight pitchers in a nine-inning shutout. ... Mitch Maier made an outstanding diving catch of Joyce's sinking liner into right field in the fourth.