The Rays take another must-win game. Andrew Astleford breaks down the wild-card victory.
By ANDREW ASTLEFORDFS Florida
Just call them road tested.
A different city, a different stadium, the same result. This time, the
Tampa Bay Rays earned an escape from the win-or-go-home tightrope they had walked since Sunday.
Behind another efficient outing from right-hander Alex Cobb, the Rays beat the Cleveland Indians 4-0 on Wednesday in the American League wild-card game at Progressive Field to win their third consecutive game and 10th in their past 12.
Like they did in Texas on Monday, the Rays jumped to an early lead and advanced with smooth pitching and timely outs to turn back Indians' scoring threats.
Here are a few thoughts on a night when the Rays advanced to start a best-of-five AL Division Series against the Boston Red Sox on Friday ...
1. Cobb delivered as expected.
The Rays couldn't have asked for a better option to start this game, and that includes reigning AL Cy Young Award winner David Price and 17-game winner Matt Moore. The right-hander came through big, becoming more bend than break despite the Indians' scoring threats in the fourth, fifth and seventh innings.
Cobb final line: No runs, eight hits and five strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings. It marked the second consecutive start he didn't allow a run. Dating back to a victory over the Texas Rangers on Sept. 16, he has won four consecutive starts.
Keep in mind this momentum continues his strong run since he returned Aug. 15 from a mild concussion. There appears to be no signs of slowing soon.
2. Danny Salazar looked much more human in his second time through the Rays' lineup.
The young, hard-throwing right-hander appeared nearly invincible in striking out three of the first four batters he faced. Aside from Delmon Young's third-inning blast to left field, Rays hitters had a hard time catching up with his speed, which approached 100 mph on multiple occasions.
By the fourth inning, though, Salazar began to crack. He faced the minimum in the first two innings and four batters in the third, but he allowed two consecutive singles after striking out Wil Myers to start the fourth.
Then Desmond Jennings roped a liner to left field, scoring James Loney and Evan Longoria. Salazar lasted four innings and allowed three runs and four hits. It was his shortest outing since going 3 2/3 innings in a no-decision against the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 13.
3. Quietly, Young has put together an impressive run over eight games.
With his homer Wednesday, he has RBI in seven of his past eight, including one in each of the past six.
The shot off Salazar shattered the pitcher's short-lived appearance of control. Young was a bit of an unknown after the Rays signed him in August. But his production Wednesday is precisely why the former first overall pick in 2003 was brought back to Tampa Bay.
He was the MVP of the 2012 ALCS, when he was a member of the Detroit Tigers, so he has some postseason pedigree. If he continues to provide contributions like he has lately, he adds to the Rays' already strong depth.
4. Tampa Bay's bullpen should be well rested for the ALDS.
Price went the distance Monday and only relievers Joel Peralta and Jake McGee and closer Fernando Rodney appeared Wednesday.
Manager Joe Maddon's wild-card roster included other options like Alex Torres, Jamey Wright and Wesley Wright, as well as starters Chris Archer and Matt Moore. But he wasn't forced to use many arms at his disposal.
The rest will serve the Rays' bullpen well ahead. Cleveland entered having scored no fewer than five runs in each of its past seven games. Certainly, the Indians had scoring chances early against Cobb, but credit him and Tampa Bay's bullpen for silencing a respectable lineup that closed the regular season with 10 consecutive victories.
When the Rays' pitching is on, they look tough to beat. This is a strong group now.
5. Now the Rays have some room for error. No more win-or-be-done games ... at least (possibly) for a little while into the future.
The Game 1 matchup against the Red Sox at Fenway Park will mark their first non-must-win game since losing to the Toronto Blue Jays last Saturday. That means the Rays went 3-0 since Sunday when they had to do just that to avoid sliding into the offseason.
Logic says all the travel and pressure and high-stakes moments could lead to a letdown in Boston. (The Rays haven't played at home since hosting the Baltimore Orioles on Sept. 23.)
However, the adrenaline could last. Aside from the two hiccups in Toronto last week, the Rays appear to be playing some of their best baseball. The Red Sox went 12-7 against the Rays this season, but the series to come should be tight.