It’s official. The Cleveland Indians will face off against the Tampa Bay Rays Wednesday night at Progressive Field. Thanks to a hard fought victory over the Texas Rangers, the Rays will have the opportunity to continue their season in the Wild Card round of Major League Baseball’s postseason.
Led by a spectacular pitching performance from their ace, David Price, the Rays were in control of the 163rd game of the season from the start. Price, who was 1-4 with a 5.98 ERA in eight career starts against the Rangers, looked like the dominant Cy Young award winner from a year ago. He went the distance and allowed only two runs to cross the plate on seven hits and a walk while striking out four. Even more impressive, Price also picked off two runners to help get himself out of two potential jams.
Fortunately for the Indians, because Price went the distance he will not be available on Wednesday night. Instead, the Tribe will get to face off against Alex Cobb, owner of 4-1 record, 2.41 ERA, and .219 batting average against since returning from the disabled list on August 15th after taking a line drive off the side of his head.
Offensively, the Rays took advantage of Martin Perez on Monday night. Perez, in his first full season as a starter, was not prepared for what the Rays had to offer. He pitched well enough for a typical regular season start, but for game 163 his three runs allowed on four hits in 5.1 innings just wasn’t good enough. Not when David Price was wheeling and dealing in typical David Price fashion.
Things got going for the Rays on Monday as they plated their first run in the top of the first inning. Delmon Young, the prodigal son of the Rays, came through with a sacrifice fly to center that scored Wil Myers. It could have been much worse for the Rangers as Desmond Jennings was thrown out at second attempting to stretch a single into a double to lead off the game.
In the top of the third inning Evan Longoria stepped to the plate and did what Evan Longoria does during the final game of the season. He drilled a Perez fastball over the wall in right center to put the Rays up by a score of 3-0. The Longoria home put the Rays firmly in control of the game and also put the Rangers back on their heels while silencing the crowd.
The Rangers tried to battle their way back into the game against Price, but for the most part their efforts went all for naught. They got on the board in the bottom of the third inning when Ian Kinsler singled and scored Craig Gentry. Unfortunately, the Rays countered in the sixth when David DeJesus, playing in the first meaningful game of his career, doubled down the right field line to drive home Longoria and make it 4-1. The Rangers would immediately follow that up with a run of their own when Alex Rios lined a double off of the left center wall to cut the lead back to two at 4-2.
In the top of the seventh the Rangers caught the biggest break of the game for either side. The Rays were threatening with two out and runners on first and second, Delmon Young lined a ball to center field. Leonys Martin reached down and made the catch as he came tumbling to the ground. In almost one motion he sprang back to his feet with the ball in full display in his glove. Young was ruled out, inning over, no runs scored. The only problem was that upon further review, and initial viewing to be honest, Martin trapped the ball. The blown call cost the Rays what could have been a valuable run and added fuel to the already raging inferno that is instant replay in baseball.
It wound up not mattering in the end. Between David Price’s brilliance and an extra run added thanks to a throwing error by Tanner Scheppers, the Rays had all the runs they would need. Price shut the Royals down over the final three innings and lifted his arms triumphantly to the sky as the Rays made the final out of the game.
For the Rangers, the defeat signals another disappointing end to another season full of high expectations. After leading the AL West for parts of the year and as recently as September 1, to not even make the playoffs as a Wild Card may be the final nail in the coffin for this version of the Texas Rangers. Major changes, including the replacement of manager Ron Washington, may be in the near future. For all the good Washington did in getting the Rangers to back to back World Series, he has been equally as disappointing in the collapses of the past two seasons.
Meanwhile, the Rays will celebrate and then head on a plane for Cleveland where the Indians will be waiting. Danny Salazar is scheduled to make the start for the Tribe against the previously mentioned Alex Cobb. Can he find a way to stop an Indians team that won a club record ten straight games to close out the season, or will the Indians continue their assault towards their first deep postseason run since 2007? We’ll all find out on Wednesday.