Tampa Trumps Texas
Arlington, Texas — David Price, Evan Longoria and the Tampa Bay Rays are going to playoffs again, getting there with a victory in their final regular-season game for the second time in three years.
They needed an extra game this time.
Price threw his fourth complete game of the season, Longoria had a two-run homer and the Rays beat the Texas Rangers 5-2 in the AL wild-card tiebreaker game Monday night, the 163rd game for both teams.
The Rays face another must-win situation Wednesday night at Cleveland in the AL wild-card game — the winner faces Boston in the division series. Tampa Bay, in the playoffs for the fourth time in six years, won four of six from the Indians during the regular season.
Price (10-8), the reigning AL Cy Young winner, had a 10.26 ERA in four previous starts at Rangers Ballpark. He was superb in this one, striking out four and walking one. He picked off two runners while allowing seven hits and throwing 81 of 118 pitches for strikes.
The 28-year-old lefty reached 10 wins for the fifth straight season. He missed more than six weeks because of a triceps strain but is 9-4 in his 13 starts since returning July 2 from his first career stint on the disabled list.
Texas had won seven in a row, needing every one of those wins just to force the majors’ first wild-card tiebreaker since 2007.
Even with the return of All-Star slugger Nelson Cruz from his 50-game drug suspension, the Rangers missed a chance to get to the playoffs for the fourth year in a row.
Cruz, who had 27 homers and 76 RBIs in 108 games before his suspension, was 0-for-4 with a strikeout while hitting sixth as the designated hitter. His groundout to shortstop ended the game.
The Rays had runners at first and second with two outs in the seventh when Delmon Young, who put the Rays ahead to stay with a sacrifice fly in the first, hit a soft flyball.
Center fielder Leonys Martin made a running, diving play to catch the ball. Replays showed clearly that the ball bounced into Martin’s glove. But third base umpire Ron Kulpa, looking at the play from the side, ruled it an inning-ending catch.
Young rounded first base with his arms spread out signaling safe. Maddon went out to talk to Kulpa, though the conversation didn’t appear heated.
When the Rays played at Texas on April 8, the fourth game of the season for both teams, their 5-4 loss ended when plate umpire Marty Foster called a third strike against Ben Zobrist on a pitch low and outside. The ump later admitted the 2-2 curveball wasn’t a strike and he wouldn’t call that pitch a strike if he could do it again. The Texas win and closer Joe Nathan’s 300th career save stood.
Maddon said after that game that such calls “can’t be made in a Major League Baseball game.” The Rays still had a runner on base and Longoria on deck when Zobrist was called out.
MLB intends to use expanded video review next year.
The Rangers had beaten Tampa Bay in the AL division series in 2010 and 2011 on way to their only two World Series. It was the second year in a row their season ended in a do-or-die game at home — they lost to Baltimore in the first AL wild-card game last October.
Tampa Bay and Texas are the only teams in the majors to win at least 90 games in each of the last four seasons.
In 2011, the Rays had to overcome a nine-game deficit the final month of the season and were down seven runs in their 162nd game of the season. They got to the playoffs after Longoria’s game-ending homer in the 12th inning to beat the New York Yankees.
The first four hitters in the game against rookie left-hander Martin Perez (10-6) combined for three singles and a walk, and yet the Rays still didn’t have a run.
Desmond Jennings, in his first start in more than a week after dealing with left hamstring tightness, hit the game’s first pitch down the left-field line. He was thrown out trying to stretch the hit to a double when left fielder Craig Gentry, who even with the return of Cruz stayed in the lineup because of his hot bat, made a strong throw.
Will Myers walked on four pitches before consecutive singles by Ben Zobrist and Longoria loaded the bases. A run finally came home on Young’s sacrifice fly.
Young, signed by the Rays as a minor league free agent less than six weeks ago, was the MVP of the AL championship series last year when Detroit swept the New York Yankees. He hit two homers with six RBIs in that four-game series.
Jennings had a leadoff walk in the third, and there were two outs before Longoria hit a drive to right-center that landed in the Rangers bullpen.
After Martin struck out Zobrist to start the sixth, the eighth consecutive batter he retired, Alexi Ogando gave up a double to Longoria, who scored on a pinch-double by David DeJesus.
Elvis Andrus walked on four pitches in the first, but was picked off by Price. Ian Kinsler had an RBI single in the third, but was caught stealing after straying off the base and drawing a throw.
Tampa added a run in the ninth when Sam Fuld was at second base, when he took off for third base. Reliever Tanner Scheppers threw wildly to third base, allowing Fuld to score.