Created on Wednesday, 02 October 2013 Written by TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — Sporting sunglasses, a teal shirt and a backpack hanging from his shoulder, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon looked like a tourist as he arrived late for his news conference.
A capsule look at the Rays-Indians wild-card game
The Associated Press
A look at the American League wild-card playoff between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians:
Schedule: Wednesday, at Cleveland (8:07 p.m. EDT) (TBS).
Season Series: Rays won 4-2.
Rays: LF David DeJesus (.260, 2 HRs, 11RBIs, 10 doubles in 35 games), RF Wil Myers ( .293, 13, 53, 50 runs in 88 games), 2B Ben Zobrist (.275, 12, 71), 3B Evan Longoria (.269, 32, 88, 39 doubles), 1B James Loney (.299, 13, 75), DH Matt Joyce (.235, 18, 47), CF Desmond Jennings (.252, 14, 54, 20 stolen bases), C Jose Lobaton (.249, 7, 32 in 100 games), SS Yunel Escobar (.256, 9, 56).
Indians: CF Michael Bourn (.263, 6 HRs, 50 RBIs, 23 SBs), RF Nick Swisher (.246, 22, 63), 2B Jason Kipnis (.284, 17, 84), 1B Carlos Santana (.268, 20, 74), LF Michael Brantley (.284, 10, 73), SS Asdrubal Cabrera (.242, 14, 64), DH Jason Giambi (.183, 9, 31) 3B Mike Aviles (.252, 9, 46) OR Lonnie Chisenhall (.225, 11, 36), C Yan Gomes (.294, 11, 38).
Rays: RH Alex Cobb (11-3, 2.76 ERA).
Indians: RH Danny Salazar (2-3, 3.12 ERA, 65 strikeouts in 52 innings).
Rays: RH Joel Peralta (3-8, 3.41, 80 appearances), RH Fernando Rodney (5-4, 3,38, 37 saves in 45 opportunities), RH Brandon Gomes (3-1, 6.52), RH Roberto Hernandez (6-13, 4.89, 33 appearances, 24 starts), LH Jake McGee (5-3, 4.02), LH Cesar Ramos (2-2, 4.14), LH Alex Torres (4-2, 1.71, 62 Ks in 58 innings), RH Jamey Wright 2-2, 3.09), RH Jeremy Hellickson (12-10, 5.17, 32 appearances, 31 starts).
Indians: Chris Perez (5-3, 4.33 ERA 25/30 saves), RH Justin Masterson (14-10, 3.45, 29 starts, 3 relief appearances), RH Bryan Shaw (7-3, 3.24, 70 games), RH Cody Allen (6-1, 2.43, team-high 77 games), RH Joe Smith (6-2, 2.29) LH Rich Hill (1-2, 6.28), LH Marc Rzepczynski (0-0, 0.89, 27 games).
The winner advances to meet AL East champion Boston Red Sox in best-of-five series that begins Friday. ... The Rays are in the playoffs for the fourth time in six seasons, joining the Yankees, Cardinals and Phillies as the only teams to make it at least four times since 2008. They also were a wild card in 2011, earning the spot on the final night of the regular season when Evan Longoria homered in the 12th inning. Tampa Bay also earned berths as AL East champions in 2008 and 2010. Since making a surprising run to the World Series in their first postseason appearance, Tampa Bay's last two October's ended with losses to Texas in the divisional round. ... The Indians are making their first postseason appearance since 2007, when they lost to Red Sox in ALCS. ... With one of baseball's deepest rotations leading the way, the Rays won 14 of their last 19 regular season games to rebound from a stretch in which they dropped 13 of 17 and fell out of contention for a third division title in six years. Since the wild card was added to the playoff format in 1995, only four other teams have pulled out of stretches in which they went 4-13 in the closing weeks of a season to earn a postseason berth. The Yankees did it in 1995 and 2000. The 2000 Mariners and 2008 Braves were the others. ... The Rays finished with 90-plus wins for the fourth straight season, the longest active streak in the majors. Tampa Bay took two of three in Cleveland. ... Manager Terry Francona, who signed with Cleveland in October after taking one-year layoff and working as broadcaster, won two World Series titles with Red Sox. He helped end an 86-year championship drought in Boston and the Curse of Bambino. ... The Indians haven't won World Series since 1948. ... The Indians reeled off 10 straight wins to end regular season and clinch wild-card spot. ... Cleveland's 92 wins are a 24-win jump from 2012. ... Salazar began season at Double-A Akron, but zoomed through system. He had a dazzling debut, carrying a no-hitter into sixth inning on July 11 against Toronto. Indians have no hesitancy in handing a 23-year-old the ball because of his fastball and fearlessness. The Rays have not faced Salazar. ... The Indians were outscored 30-23 by Rays. ... Cobb struck out six in 7 1-3 innings against Indians on April 6. ... Swisher is career .300 hitter (3 of 10) in 12 plate appearances against Cobb.
Rays: Longoria is the face of the Rays, however Myers has had a huge impact as a rookie. Tampa Bay went 56-38 after Myers was promoted from Triple-A Durham on June 18. The key acquisition in an offseason trade that sent pitcher James Shields to Kansas City, Myers has led the team in RBIs (53), runs scored (50) and doubles (23) since being called up. He's second in hits (98) and homers (13). ... Myers and Zobrist led the Rays with .294 batting averages after the All-Star break. ... Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner David Price (10-8, 3.33) pitched the Rays into the playoffs with a 5-2, complete-game victory over Texas in Tuesday's wild-card tiebreaker. ... Cobb, Wednesday's starter, missed nearly two months with a concussion after being hit in the head by a line drive. He beat the Rangers, Yankees and Orioles in his past three starts, pitching to a 1.16 ERA. He's 18-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 33 starts since August 1, 2012. Detroit's Max Scherzer is the only pitcher with a better record during that stretch at 27-4. ... The No. 3 starter is All-Star Matt Moore, a 17-game winner with a 3.29 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 150 1-3 innings. ... The Rays are 11-14 in postseason games, 5-8 at home and 6-6 on the road. Longoria is the only player on the roster who's appeared in all 25 games.
Indians: A roller-coaster regular season ended with a scintillating sprint in the final two weeks as the Indians swept the White Sox, Astros and Twins to go 21-6 in September and edged Texas and Tampa Bay in a three-team tussle that carried through the month. ... Francona's hiring last fall was followed by a stunning winter spending spree by Cleveland ownership. The Indians spent $117 million on free agents Bourn, Swisher, DH Mark Reynolds and RH Brett Myers. ... They lack power in middle of lineup, but the Indians have depth and hidden power from top to bottom with 10 players hitting at least 10 homers. ... They don't have any superstars, however, Indians have nice blend of talent and have embraced Francona's team-first mantra. ... Cleveland struggled against teams with winning records, but went 56-18 against teams under .500. ... The Indians had knack for drama, winning 11 times on walk-offs with nine different players taking turns as star. ... A suspect starting rotation entering the season became team's strength. Masterson was selected an All-Star, Ubaldo Jimenez dominated in the second half and Scott Kazmir, Zach McAllister, Corey Kluber all overcame injuries to make major contributions. ... Francona has called 42-year-old Jason Giambi the team's MVP, mostly for his affect on the organization. Giambi delivered the season's most stunning moment, a ninth-inning homer to beat Chicago last week, but it was his work behind the scenes as a clubhouse leader that meant most. ... Perez was stripped of his closer role in final series at Minnesota after he gave up six runs in two outings. His 7.52 ERA since Aug. 1 was reason enough for Francona to make move.
— Defense Sets Tone: The Rays are built on pitching and defense. They committed 59 errors, second fewest to Baltimore's major league-record 54. Tampa Bay also would have broken the old mark of 65 by the 2003 Mariners. Zobrist led AL second basemen with a .9928 fielding percentage, .0001 ahead of Boston's Dustin Pedroia. Escobar, meanwhile, led all major league shortstops with a .989 fielding percentage after being acquired in an offseason trade. The pitching staff set a club record with 17 shutouts. The Rays have 32 over the past two seasons, tied with the Dodgers for the most in baseball.
— Glad To Be Here: Wright is an 18-year veteran playing with his 10th team, but this is his first postseason appearance. No active player has gone longer without playing in the playoffs. DeJesus was obtained in a trade on Aug. 23 and is in the playoffs for the first time in his 11-year career. His streak of 1,277 regular season games without a postseason appearance is fifth among active players.
— Masterson In Relief. The right-hander was sidelined three weeks with a side injury, and because he hasn't logged many innings, Francona will use him out of bullpen. If Salazar gets in trouble, Masterson is the safety net. "We went from losing our best pitcher to having a weapon in the bullpen," Francona said. "We'll use it." Masterson relieved for Francona when both were in Boston, and it was fitting the ace recorded the final outs when the Indians clinched the wild-card spot.
Maddon didn't have time to slip into his uniform and had a valid excuse. The Rays have been on the road.
In the past week, they've gone from Tampa to New York to Toronto to Texas to Cleveland, a journey covering 3,627 miles.
On Wednesday night, the Rays hope to book a trip to Boston.
Getting a complete game from starter David Price, Tampa Bay beat Texas 5-2 in a tiebreaker on Monday night, earning the Rays a wild-card spot for the third time in four years and a chance to face the Indians, making their first appearance in October since 2007.
Forced to win almost every day down the stretch as they went neck-and-neck-and-neck with the Indians and Rangers in a thrilling wild-card scramble in the final weeks of September, the Rays won in Toronto on Sunday before traveling deep in the heart of Texas and surviving a win-or-go-home scenario.
"I'll tell you what," said Maddon, whose team went 14-5 after Sept. 12. "We've already played this wild-card game a couple times. We did it in Toronto a couple days ago. We did it yesterday in Texas, and we're going to come here tomorrow and do it again. I don't know if there's a battle-tested component to that, if you get immune to whatever that pressure is and you go play."
Wednesday's winner will meet the Red Sox in Game 1 of the division series on Friday.
The Rays always believed they'd be in position to make a run at a first World Series title. And although they've racked up some frequent-flyer miles and lived out of their suitcases to keep their season alive, they're confident their season isn't about to end.
"When you get into this momentum kind of a thing on a daily basis and you're playing great competition and you're going from city to city to city and it's an adverse territory, all of this stuff is what you train for and you really dig and you love it," Maddon said. "You don't have time to get nervous or overthink, you've just got to get ready and go play — and for our guys, they kind of like that moment right now."
Like the Rays, the Indians had to scrap their way into the postseason. Cleveland ended a topsy-turvy regular season under manager Terry Francona by ripping off 10 wins in a row, playing error-free ball during the stretch.
Now, when every mistake is magnified and there's no room for lapses, the Indians want to keep rolling and will start rookie Danny Salazar in their biggest game in six seasons.
"This team wasn't expected to do anything," said right fielder Nick Swisher, one of the team's high-profile free-agent signings. "Just to be where we are right now is awesome, man."
Tampa won four of the six games against Cleveland this season, but the teams haven't met since early June.
Rays starter Alex Cobb (11-3) was asked what he learned about the Indians in his one start against them on April 6.
"That was so long ago, I don't know if that really applies anymore," he said.
"Plus," Maddon said, interrupting his young right-hander. "That was before you got hit in the head."
Fortunately, the Rays can now make light of the scary situation involving Cobb, who was struck in the head by a line drive hit by Kansas City's Eric Hosmer on June 15. Cobb missed 50 games with a concussion, but he's been a different pitcher since the injury, going 5-1 with a 2.41 ERA in nine starts.
Cobb said two months of rest may have helped, but he was also driven to pitch in the postseason after missing out in 2011 when he underwent surgery to remove a blood clot in his ribs.
"Watching the postseason and just the feeling of being left out is indescribable," he said. "It's a terrible feeling that you don't want to have again, so I think it was extra motivation to get back and it definitely fueled the fire even more to get back to the postseason and know that we have a special group that can go far."
The Indians feel just as strongly about making this an unforgettable season, perhaps even ending Cleveland's 65-year drought between World Series titles.
Francona has no hesitation in handing the ball to Salazar (2-3), an unflappable 23-year-old who began the season at Double-A Akron but zoomed to the majors and carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning of his debut. The Rays have never faced him.
"Believe me, we wouldn't pitch him if we weren't confident in him giving us the best chance to win," Francona said. "Danny has done nothing to make us think he can't handle this. He's so poised. If I had stuff like him, I'd be poised, too. But there's a difference between throwing 100 mph and being able to get major league hitters out. Danny can do that."
NOTES: Indians CF and leadoff hitter Michael Bourn did some agility drills and ran the bases before working out with his teammates. He pulled up with a leg injury on Sunday in Minnesota, and his status for Wednesday is not yet known. ... The teams have to have their 25-man rosters set by 10 a.m. Wednesday. .... Francona followed up on his joke about the Indians avoiding chicken and beer during his September surge, a jab at his final days in Boston. "I lied about that," he said. "We have had some chicken."