While it was nothing like the manic atmosphere at PNC Park Tuesday night when the Pirates spanked the Reds to advance in the NL playoffs and the wife of Reds pitcher Mat Latos, Dallas Latos, alleged that Pirates fans assaulted her, the AL Wild Card play in game between the Indians and Rays had its own special drama. After all, in any winner take all, one-game playoff even some of the small moments turn into big ones. One team strives mightily to eliminate the other. On this night it was the Rays who moved on, beating the Indians 4-0. They got only four hits but they all count.
The Rays kept the pressure on Indians starter Danny Salazar (2-3. 3.12), with a homer crushed off the bat of DH Delmon Young in the third and a 2 RBI double by Desmond Jennings in fourth. Although Salazar was far from bad – through four innings he had struck out four and until the Rays got to him in that inning he had set down nine of 11 – it’s simply that Tampa came to the park to make the most of their opportunities.
In the playoffs everything is amplified. Salazar made just enough mistakes to allow his counterpart, Ray’s starter Alex Cobb (11-3, 2.76 ERA), to get settled in while being staked to an early 3-0 lead. But in the upside down world of Major League playoff baseball an early three run lead isn’t necessarily a good thing.
The Indians raised a ruckus in the bottom of the fourth on a double by Carlos Santana and a Michael Brantley single that put Indians on the corners with one out. After Ryan Raburn walked to load the bases, it was early gut check time for Joe Maddon‘s crew.
Cobb got Asdrubal Cabrera to ground into a 3-6-1 double pay to snuff the threat and Progressive Field got real quiet real fast.
While Cobb got off the hook, Indians manager Terry Francona went into early scramble mode over the next inning, removing Salazar, inserting Marc Rzepczynski for one batter and then going to Bryan Shaw. Cobb, meanwhile, was back in a jam in the bottom of the fifth after Yan Gomes doubled and Lonnie Chisenhall singled. Cleveland again couldn’t cash in when Nick Swisher grounded out to end the inning. Cobb had survived another inning while Francona looked to Shaw to hold the line until the sixth while his usual starter, Justin Masterson, warmed in the pen preparing to finish the last three innings.
Gomes and Chisenhall combined for hits again the seventh with one out. Cobb was removed after 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball but left two runners on for reliever Joel Peralta. All Peralta did was strike out Nick Swisher and preserve the shutout.
After suffering an oblique injury late in the season, Masterson rounded back into form and Francona didn’t hesitate to insert him. At 6-6, 250 lbs. Masterson is an imposing figure and he didn’t disappoint. Watching him work made me wonder just how nicely the Sox staff would look in the playoffs if he had never been traded to Cleveland in 2009 along with minor league prospects Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price for Victor Martinez, who became a one and done with the Red Sox.
The Rays tacked on another run in the top of the ninth to nail down the lid on Cleveland’s coffin. In the end, Cleveland quite simply squandered no less than three golden opportunities to score, allowing Cobb and company to stifle their threats. The top four in Cleveland’s lineup went a combined 2-16 with five Ks. That’s the way it goes. One moves on while one goes home. The dream match up between Farrell and Francona didn’t materialize and the Red Sox must now deal with an always dangerous in the playoffs Rays team.
The long wait for Sox fans is nearly over. Game one of the ALDS playoff is set for Friday at Fenway Park at 3:07 p.m. on TBS.