The Tampa Bay Rays are heading for a showdown with their division rivals, the Boston Red Sox, in the AL Division Series. The Rays, led by a masterful starting pitching performance by Alex Cobb, beat the Cleveland Indians 4-0 to win the Wild Card playoff game and punch their ticket to Beantown.
Cobb was the story in Cleveland on Wednesday night, despite all of the hype surrounding Cleveland rookie Danny Salazar. The quietly effective Cobb threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings while scattering seven hits, walking one and striking out five. He was able to get ground balls when he needed to, getting ten ground ball outs in his outing.
Salazar started strong for the Tribe, setting down the first six hitters he faced. But things began to unravel a bit when Delmon Young homered to lead off the third, showing that Salazar was indeed human. He retired the next four batters he faced after Young's home run, but back to back singles by James Loney and Evan Longoria put Tampa Bay in prime position to cash in. After a fly out by Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings doubled in Loney and Longoria to make it a 3-0 game. Salazar got out of the fourth without any more damage, but was pulled after walking Jose Lobaton to lead off the fifth.
The Indians had their chances in this one, that's for sure. The team loaded the bases with one out in the fourth, but Cobb got a double play to end the inning. In the fifth, they had runners on the corners with none out, and couldn't cash in after not getting the ball out of the infield with the next three hitters. Yan Gomes and Lonnie Chisenhall hit back to back singles with one out in the seventh, but Cobb got Michael Bourn to fly out and Joel Peralta struck out Nick Swisher to end the inning. All in all, the Indians stranded nine runners, and didn't score a single run despite going 2/9 with runners in scoring position. Neither team gave away baserunners either, as they combined to walk just three hitters (one intentionally) and hit one over the course of the game, but it ended up not playing a huge role as none of those four baserunners scored.
Offensively, what hurt the Indians most was the top of their lineup. Bourn, Swisher, and Jason Kipnis went a combined 0/12 with four strikeouts. That's not going to get the job done, and if that trio even had just two hits, maybe the five total hits by eight and nine hitters Gomes and Chisenhall would have led to some runs going up on the board. The Rays didn't even pound them senseless, as Cleveland had more hits and more extra base hits than Tampa Bay. But sometimes, that's the way baseball goes. Tampa Bay might not have played vastly better baseball on Wednesday night than Cleveland, but the game worked out in their favor.
Next up for the Rays: the Boston Red Sox. Game 1 will be on Friday in Boston at 3:07 PM, airing on TBS. Jon Lester will take the hill for the Bosox, and Tampa Bay's starter is currently unannounced, though it's expected to be Matt Moore. Letting David Price start Monday's game against the Rangers now sets Price up for the start in Game 2, and possibly in Game 5 on normal rest (if necessary). As for the Indians, they'll begin to lick their wounds following an improbable season that had a disappointing finish.