Rays shut out Indians to take AL wild card game
Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria celebrates with designated hitter Delmon Young after scoring against the Cleveland Indians during the American League wild card game at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Oct. 2, 2013. (DAVID RICHARD/USA Today)
When the Tampa Bay Rays left home September 23 for their final six-game trip of the year to New York and Toronto, they expected to be home in a week, ready to host the Anerican League wild-card game.
But life, as they say, is what happens when you’re making other plans.
The Texas Rangers and the Cleveland Indians got hot and the Rays ran into a little trouble in Toronto and all of a sudden, that six-day trip had grown and the road to the playoffs had become treacherous.
It was along about that point that manager Joe Maddon made an admission.
“I packed for Boston,” he said. “We don’t do anything the easy way.”
And now, after surviving a play-in game in Texas on Monday and then Wednesday’s wild-card game against the Indians, that’s where this road trip will end: In Boston, where Tampa Bay will begin the best-of-five AL Division Series on Friday.
They earned that right by grinding out a 4-0 victory, snapping off Cleveland’s 10-game winning streak in the process of ending the Indians’ season, behind the bend-but-don’t-break pitching of Alex Cobb.
“It’s been a crazy time,” Maddon said. “You’ve got to count Toronto because that was a wild day to just to get into the position to play again on Monday. That’s three different venues, three difficult venues because Toronto was packed also, Texas and then (last night)’s game, all in enemy teritory. I’m so proud of our guys.”
Cobb worked in and out of trouble from the third inning on but whenever he needed a big pitch to keep the Indians at bay, he found it. Cleveland had runners in scoring position in four of Cobb’s seven innings but could not push a run across.
“He didn’t pitch like a young pitcher,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “In those situations, as the stadium got louder, (Cobb) took the sting out of our bats by changing speeds.”
Meanwhile, Delmon Young, who has become a modern-day Mr. October, delivered the only run the Rays would eventually need by leading off the fourth inning with a long blast against Cleveland starter Danny Salazar. It was Young’s ninth homer in his past 23 post-season games, eight of them on behalf of the Detroit Tigers over the course of the past two post-seasons.
Tampa Bay would get the rest of their offence from one Desmond Jennings swing an inning later in the form of a two-run double.
Cobb rode his rope-a-dope act into the seventh inning, where he gave up back-to-back one-out singles. He got another out on a long fly ball before Maddon went to his bullpen for reliever Joel Peralta to face Nick Swisher. Peralta struck out Swisher on three pitches.
In the game’s early moments, both young pitchers were impressive. Salazar’s flame was obviously burning hot. In the first inning, after giving a long, loud out to David DeJesus leading off, he fanned Wil Myers and James Loney in succession on 98-mph fastballs. In the second inning, one of his strikes hit 100 m.p.h. as he again took out the Rays in order.
Meanwhile, Cobb’s thermostat was set a little lower, but he was dealing. He gave up the game’s first hit in the second inning — a two-out double by Ryan Raburn — but recovered quickly.
In the third inning, Young redirected Salazar’s first pitch on a high arc into the left-centre field seats, a 414-foot bomb that gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead and seemed to erode Salazar’s confidence. He got out of that inning with no further complication but the fourth was his undoing.
With one out, he gave up consecutive singles to Loney and Evan Longoria. Another solidly-hit out later, Jennings doubled down the third base line, scoring both baserunners.
Cobb’s inning of decision turned out to be the fourth, as well. With one out, Carlos Santana doubled for the Indians and then Mickey Brantley followed with a single. Raburn then walked to fill the bases with one out. Asdrubal Cabrera then stung a ball on the ground to Loney at first, who relayed to Yunel Escobar covering second, then back to Cobb who hustled over to cover first ont he 3-6-1 double play.
The Indians threatened again in the fifth, but Cobb once again wriggled free. A booming double by catcher Yan Gomes led off the inning. He went to third on Lonnie Chisenhall’s single. But Bourne struck out and Swisher’s groundout to first base was hit too hard to score Gomes before Kipnis hit a weak grounder back to the pitcher for the third out.
After Salazar walked weak-hitting catcher Jose Molina leading off the fifth, Francona began his parade of relievers with lefty Marc Rzepczynski, who struck out DeJesus, his only hitter.
“It hurts,” Francona said. “We didn’t want to go home yet. We knew what we were getting into today and they outplayed us.”
So, for the third game in a row, the Rays ended somebody’s season, but not their own. Sunday it was the Blue Jays. Monday, it was the Rangers and Wednesday, the Indians. The last two have involved champagne showers all around. They will eventually get home Sunday, a week late, but, oh, the stories they’ll have to tell.