The Tampa Bay Rays completed their difficult route to the ALDS on Oct. 2 in Cleveland. For the second time this week, the Rays had to go on the road and win a play-in game just to reach the divisional series -- and for the second time, the Rays cruised under dominant pitching. Alex Cobb didn’t shut down the Cleveland Indians like David Price handcuffed the Texas Rangers on Sept. 30, but the result was another clear cut road win that let Tampa Bay advance.
The 4-0 win was powered by a long Delmon Young homer in the third, a two-run Desmond Jennings double in the fourth, and the Indians’ repeated failure to drive men home. A bases-loaded double play in the fourth, a wasted first-and-third chance with nobody out in the fifth, and a wasted first-and-second with one out opportunity in the seventh all cost Cleveland dearly.
Cobb only pitched for 6 2-3’rd innings, whereas Price went the distance in the Rays’ last win. Yet unlike Price, Cobb didn’t give up a run and the Rays’ bullpen didn’t either. Like the Rangers before them, the Indians’ late hot streak to end the regular season did them no good against the Rays in the postseason, despite having home field.
Tampa Bay looked like it would play itself out altogether days ago, when it lost two straight to the Toronto Blue Jays this past weekend and nearly blew a 7-0 lead on Sept. 29. Despite stumbling into the play-in game, the good version of the Rays came back just in time.
This has been typical for Tampa Bay, as it became red hot after the All-Star break, then stumbled and let the Boston Red Sox cruise to the AL East title in early September. Now after trading cold and hot streaks again, the Rays will get another shot at the Red Sox in the ALDS -- and will stay on the road for the first two games.
The Rays began their current run of excellence by beating the Red Sox in seven games for the AL pennant in 2008. Neither franchise has won a playoff series since then, although the Red Sox seem to be in the best shape to change that -- but the Rays are getting used to sneaking up on teams this October.