ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Rays are at that point of the season where they are no longer concerned with the how.
It's all about wins, and getting as many as they can to clinch a spot in the playoffs, and then improve their seeding in the expanded field by finishing first in their division, then the best record in the league.
They took care of that Tuesday, taking advantage of mistakes and misplays by the Nationals to score a 6-1 victory.
They improved their record 31-17 and, at the very least, maintained their 3 1/2-game lead in the American League East with 12 to play. They Rays reduced to four their magic number (combination of their wins and opponent losses) for clinching a playoff spot, and could be celebrating - in the subdued manner of 2020.
Tuesday's victory was a combination of good pitching especially, especially by Ryan Yarbrough, who worked 5 1/3 strong innings behind opener John Curtiss, and an opportunistic offense.
The Rays took a 2-0 lead in the second.
One came on a 416-foot blast by Nate Lowe, whom they are counting more heavily on with Ji-Man Choi joining Yandy Diaz on the injured list. The second came with help. Kevin Kiermaier, who singled, moved up to second on starter Anibal Sanchez's balk, which put Kiermaier in position to score on Kevan Smith's screaming single, with an exit velocity of 109.5 mph.
The Nationals made some more mistakes, and the Rays took advantage, scoring four in the fifth.
The rally started somewhat benignly, with Austin Meadows singling and stealing second, Brandon Lowe lining out and Mike Brosseau being hit by a Sanchez pitch. With a full count on Yoshi Tsutsugo, Sanchez was called for a second balk, but the pitch was ball four and under the rules the walk supersedes the balk, which loaded the bases.
That's where the Rays got opportunistic.