Created on Thursday, 03 October 2013 Written by TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — An unexpected season loaded with highs, lows and drama ended abruptly. The magic fizzled for the Cleveland Indians only one game into October.
Cleveland Indians' Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis and Mike Aviles, from left, watch the Tampa Bay Rays celebrate a 4-0 win over the Indians in the AL wild-card baseball game Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Wasting scoring opportunities against Tampa Bay starter Alex Cobb, the Indians disappointed a sellout crowd that did everything it could to carry them Wednesday night with a 4-0 loss to the Rays in the AL wild-card game.
A team that went from 94 losses last season to 92 wins in 2013 under first-year manager Terry Francona couldn't continue an improbable run that got them back to the postseason for the first time since 2007.
"It hurts. We didn't want to go home yet," said Francona, who gathered his team in a room across from Cleveland's clubhouse. "Once we get past that, for however long that takes, I want them to remember how much me and the staff — it was an honor to go through the season with them and how much we care about them.
"That's what I'll remember more than anything."
The Indians had their chances against Cobb, who was on the ropes in the fourth and fifth innings. Asdrubal Cabrera bounced into an inning-ending double play in the fourth, and Cleveland wasted a two-on, none-out threat in the fifth when Cobb struck out Michael Bourn, got Nick Swisher to ground to first and retired Jason Kipnis on a weak comebacker.
Cleveland had one last shot in the seventh, but Rodney struck out Swisher on three pitches.
"(Cobb) kept us off balance in those situations, and that's the name of the game," said Bourn, who went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. "Me and Swish had opportunities to bring runs in, but it didn't happen. We had nine hits — we outhit them, actually — but we couldn't get any with runners on base."
Swisher didn't make excuses for his 0 for 4 night, but the always-positive first baseman credited Cobb with making good pitches when he had to.
Bourn, Swisher and Kipnis went a combined 0 for 12.
"Sometimes you run into a buzz saw like that," Swisher said. "It's tough. Cobb was really locating his pitches — his changeup and his breaking ball. We had some clutch opportunities, but just couldn't come through."
The Indians had spent all season coming back from adversity. They reeled off 10 straight wins to end the regular season, and before that had 11 walk-off victories, with nine of them by different players.
They finally won over skeptical Cleveland fans, who turned out in force for the first playoff game in Cleveland since Oct. 18, 2007, when they lost Game 5 of the ALCS to Boston, then managed by Francona.
For almost nine innings, red-clad, towel-waving fans tried to coax one more comeback out of the Indians, who couldn't deliver again.
"I wish we could have given them a better game," Francona said. "The support was fantastic. We'll see, we have some work to do in the offseason, take maybe an hour or two to rest, and then we'll get back to work. It was pretty awesome to see how it can be, though."
Cleveland rookie Danny Salazar gave up three runs in four innings. He wasn't able to match Cobb, who missed a chunk of the regular season after he was hit in the head by a line drive.
Delmon Young homered in the third inning off Salazar as the Rays, playing in their third city over four days, advanced to face the AL East champion Red Sox in the best-of-five division series starting Friday
Desmond Jennings hit a two-run double in the fourth off Salazar, who gave the Indians a glimpse of the future.
"When he worked ahead in the count, he was tremendous," Francona said of the 23-year-old right-hander. "When he fell behind, that's when they got their hits, on fastball counts. But when he worked ahead, he had a lot of success."
Francona was confident Salazar could handle the stage, and felt he held his own.
"He's going to be a special pitcher," Francona said.
Although their postseason ended quickly, it was a special ride for the Indians, who bonded from the first day of training camp and renewed hope in Cleveland fans.
"This might be one of the best group of guys I've ever played with, one of the most fun teams I've ever been on," said Kipnis, who made his first All-Star team. "The chemistry in here has been a great time, been a great learning experience for lots of younger guys, including me, and we're going to use it, the way we're feeling about it in the clubhouse right now. We're going to go into next year with a little more determination."
NOTES: The Indians were shut out in the postseason for the first time since 1998, when they were blanked by the Yankees in Game 4 of the ALCS. ... Indians RHP Joe Smith is eligible for free agency in the offseason, but hopes to return. "I love the organization, I love the clubhouse, and I want to be here because they treat you great," he said. "The Indians know I want to be back, so we'll see what happens." ... Indians reliever Chris Perez, who lost his closer's job in the final week of the season after two horrid performances, was kept on the 25-man roster for the game. Francona said it "wasn't a tough decision" and said part of it was out of loyalty to the two-time All-Star.