- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 28, 2010

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. | Music blared, champagne flowed and a half-empty stadium rocked.

The Tampa Bay Rays are back in the playoffs, and their complaints about a lack of fan support have been put on hold.

The AL East title is still within reach. So is another trip to the World Series.

“We hit a couple of rough patches along the way, but we found a way,” B.J. Upton said after the Rays clinched their second postseason spot in three years with a 5-0 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night.

With 19-game winner David Price delivering another impressive pitching performance on a day he described as a “nightmare,” the Rays also got solo home runs from Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena to set the stage for a wild party.

Price (19-6) scattered six hits over eight innings and allowed only one runner past second base. The 25-year-old left-hander struck out eight and walked none in what likely will be his final start of the regular season.

The Rays, who made an improbable run to the World Series two years ago with Price coming out of the bullpen to close out their pennant-clinching win over Boston, retained a half-game lead over the New York Yankees in the AL East.

The Yankees clinched a playoff spot Tuesday night with a 6-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.

“I never had any doubt that this was a playoff team,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “I want it to be a World Series champ.”

Price agonized much of the day over a critical comment he posted the previous night on Twitter, blasting the low attendance — 12,446 — for a potential clincher that Tampa Bay lost to Baltimore on Monday night.

“That was a nightmare. I knew if I didn’t throw well, I was going to be done” with the fans, Price said.

“All day. Everything that led up to it was terrible,” Price added. “We want more fans here, obviously. We love our fans that come, that’s not what I was saying last night.”

Tuesday’s crowd was announced as 17,891 — about 5,000 below the Rays’ season average — but Price expressed his appreciation during on on-field interview, repeatedly saying: “Thank you, Thank you,” and waving his hat to the cheering fans.

The celebration began with the players slipping on “Playoff” T-shirts and heading into the clubhouse before returning to the field, where they sprayed fans, team employees, and even police officers, with champagne.

Price wasn’t the only Rays All-Star who took some heat after speaking out about low attendance on Monday night.

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