A Magical Season Ends for the Tribe; Rays 4, Indians 0

The Cleveland Indians stormed into the post season with a flurry, but the one game playoff proved to be their undoing as they were defeated by the Tampa Bay Rays 4-0.

The Indians have fought so hard, battled through tough times, and survived 162 games to reach the 2013 Major League Playoffs. With 92 wins on the season, the Tribe scratched and clawed their way into the post season for the first time since 2007. Monday evening, the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Texas Rangers to win the right to play the Cleveland Indians in this one game wild card playoff. It is elimination time, win and move on, lose and go home, no second chances.

Taking the mound for the Indians was rookie right hander Danny Salazar (2-3, 3.12) who has had hitters whiff at an incredible rate with 65 strikeouts in 52 innings pitched. The Rays countered with Alex Cobb (11-3, 2.96), also a young pitcher with a very good 2-1 record and 2.71 ERA in his career against the Indians. The Indians had hot hitters like Nick Swisher and Michael Brantley in their lineup, providing dangerous offense for the Tribe down the stretch. One big key for the Indians is going to be keeping the hot hitting Evan Longoria from beating them with his bat.

Salazar started out the game like a strong buck eager for a challenge. With one out and a 2-0 count, Salazar overpowered fellow rookie Wil Myers with three straight fastballs to strikeout the young hitter. He then came back and dominated James Loney, blowing two fastballs by the Rays three hitter to record his second strikeout of the inning.

The second inning was much of the same from Salazar. He struck out Longoria, and got two more pop outs to end the top half of the inning. In the bottom of the second, the Indians got something going with two outs. Ryan Raburn battled to a full count, and then ripped a line drive in the left center field gap for a double. The Indians were unable to capitalize on the runner in scoring position, however, as Asdrubal Cabrera lined out to center to end the Inning.

The Rays broke through on Salazar in the third inning. His one weak spot on the season was his propensity to give up home runs; he allowed 1.2 per nine innings pitched. Rays outfielder Delmon Young capitalized on this, and crushed a fastball deep into the seats in left for a home run and a Rays led early 1-0.

The fourth inning was a tough one for Salazar as the Rays hitters seemed to time up his fastball. Loney singled to right field, and Longoria followed with a ground ball single into left. Tampa Bay center fielder Desmond Jennings came up and skipped a sizzler down the third base line past a diving Lonnie Chisenhall for a double. Both Loney and Longoria scored and the Rays led 3-0. Salazar then intentionally walked Young, and got Yunel Escobar to ground out to short to end the inning. The damage was done however and the Rays held all the cards with a three run lead.

“Desmond Jennings can drive in some runs,” Rays Manager Joe Madden said. “He has some pop in his bat, he has a lot of confidence in his role.”

The Indians threatened in the bottom of the fourth. Carlos Santana lined a double down the right field line with one out to get the Indians going. Michael Brantley continued his hot hitting with ground ball that looked like it was going to get through up the middle and score Santana. Rays quiet star Ben Zobrist made a diving stab, jumped to his feet and rifled the ball to first base. The fleet footed Brantley was just able to beat out the throw to put runners on the corners with one down. After a walk to Raburn, Cabrera stepped up to the plate with bases loaded and a golden opportunity to get some runs back. The Indians rank second in the AL with a .323 batting average when the bases are juiced, but this was not the Tribe’s moment. Cabrera bounced an easy ground ball to Loney at first and the double play was turned, killing the Indians possible rally and keeping the score 3-0 Rays heading into the fifth inning.

Salazar’s night ended after a walk to lead off the fifth, he went four innings giving up three runs on four hits and four strikeouts.

“When [Salazar] was ahead in the count he was fabulous,” Indians Manager Terry Francona said. “He’s going to be a fantastic pitcher.”

He gave way to Marc Rzepczynski (0-0, 3.23) who came on in the fifth to face David DeJesus. He struck out DeJesus, and his night was over. Francona now had to rely on Johnny Bullpen to complete this game for the Indians. Next up in line was Tribe right hander Bryan Shaw (7-3, 3.24); he faced Myers and struck him out for number two of the inning. He faced Loney next and the at bat was unnecessary as Yan Gomes gunned down Jose Molina who was attempting a rare stolen base. That ended the innings and the score remained 3-0 Rays heading into the second half of the game.

The Indians threatened again in the fifth when catcher Gomes led off with a double off the wall in left center field. Things looked good when Chisenhall drove a sinking liner into right field for a base hit, leaving runners at the corners with no outs. Things, unfortunately, would take a turn there. Michael Bourn struck out, and Swisher grounded out to first for out number two. Indians All-Star second baseman came up in the clutch situation, and was able to work the count to 3-0, but was unable to capitalize on the advantage as he grounded out to Cobb on the mound to end the inning.

Shaw pitched into the seventh, and came out of the game after giving up a leadoff single to Jennings. Indians season ace Justin Masterson (14-10, 3.45), pitching out of the pen after recovering from an oblique injury, came on to finish out the inning. He was able to get three quick outs, including two strikeouts to end the inning.

Cobb remained on the mound for the seventh inning, and after retiring seven straight Indians hitters, Gomes broke through with a line drive single into right field. The suddenly hot hitting Chisenhall followed with another scorcher into right field to put two men on with one out. Gomes and Chisenhall combined for four hits on the night, carrying the bottom of the Indians order. Bourn flew out to deep center for out number two, and that would be all for Cobb as he gave way to the leagues leader in games pitcher Joel Peralta (3-8, 3.41).

Cobb went 6.2 innings on the night, giving up no runs on eight hits and striking out five. He was in trouble throughout the game, but was able to find his way out of it time and time again, and keep runners from crossing home plate.

“Once Young hit that home run I had a run to work with,” Cobb said. “At that point I just tried to find the strikezone.”

Swisher, the Indians clubhouse leader came up to face Peralta in a huge opportunity for the Tribe. He was unable to get a good read on Peralta however, and struck out on three pitches to end the inning, and another Indians run scoring threat.

Masterson stayed out to pitch in the eighth inning, and things started off pretty rocky. He hit DeJesus on the back leg to put the leadoff runner on, and then gave up an infield single to Myers. The defense stepped up to bail Masterson out by turning a double play on a Loney ground ball. The Rays big swinging Longoria stepped in and Masterson looked to be staying far away from the slugger with three pitches way out of the zone. Then Longoria was able to get one he liked and lined a sure single into left field, but the diving glove of Chisenhall denied Longoria, and ended the inning keeping the score 3-0 Rays headed into the bottom of the eighth.

Santana continues his excellent night; Peralta tried to quick pitch the Indians DH, but Santana was ready for it and sliced a ball into left with a slap single into left field for a base hit with one out in the eighth inning. Brantley followed with a pop fly down the left field line, and DeJesus made the catch in foul territory, narrowly avoiding a beer shower as the tossed the ball back into the infield. Rays Manager Joe Madden made the call to the bullpen, and Peralta’s night was over giving way to Jake McGee (5-3, 4.02). Raburn stepped up to face McGee and was dominated by high 90’s fastballs, striking out to end the inning.

More runs were tacked on by the Rays in the ninth inning. Zobrist singled into left field to start the ninth, and after Indians reliever Cody Allen (6-1, 2.41) got Sam Fuld to strike out, he gave way to Joe Smith (6-2, 2.29). Young chopped one to third base that looked like out number two, but the top spin on the ball lofted it off the top of Chisenhall’s glove into left field. Escobar followed with a liner off the glove of Swisher to score Zobrist and make it a 4-0 ball game. Smith struck out Molina for the second out of the inning, and got DeJesus to fly out to Rayburn in right. The Indians were out of the inning, but were down to their last three outs of the season.

In the last of the ninth, the last gasp for the Indians, Madden called upon closer Fernando Rodney (5-4, 3.38) to shut the door on the Tribe. Cabrera led off the inning and was able to work a 2-2 count before swinging and missing at a Rodney change-up for out number one. Gomes, who had been one of the Indians best hitters on the day, came up looped a broken bat liner to short for out number two. Chisenhall was the Indians last hope, and he looked good on the day with three hard hit singles. It was not meant to be, however, as Chisenhall struck out to end the Indians season.

“It hurts, we didn’t want to go home yet,” Francona said. “Me and the staff, it was an honor to go through the season with [the players].”

The Indians never game up, they had nine hits on the night but were just unable to capitalize on situations. Francona believed in his team and never thought they were out of the game.

“I felt like, because they didn’t pull away it kept us in range,” the optimistic Francona said. “We never felt like we were out of it, never.”

Francona was obviously disappointed with the outcome of the game, but he was optimistic about the future.

“I wish we could have given [the fans] a better game,” Francona said. “We’ll take an hour or two to rest and get back to work.”

The Indians had a great run to their season winning 92 games and playing fantastic down the stretch. They did what they could to help the team in the off-season, and those acquisitions paid off to help the team reach the post season as a wild card team and finish just one game behind the Tigers for the Division Title. Despite the early exit from the playoffs, the season was a successful one. The Indians turned it all around and made the team a threat in the American League once again. The pitching staff stepped up and performed well, especially the starters, and the offense finished third in the AL in runs scored. This team is definitely headed in the right direction and will certainly be in the race again next year.

Photo credit: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

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