CLEVELAND (AP) — As champagne bottles were being carried into Tampa Bay’s boisterous celebration, equipment bags were hustled out of the clubhouse and loaded onto carts before being taken to the airport.
Another airport. Another trip. Another city.
The Rays aren’t done traveling. Their October road show rolls on.
Alex Cobb and three relievers combined to shut out Cleveland and silence a raucous sellout crowd that hung on every pitch Wednesday night as Tampa Bay set up a division series showdown with the Red Sox by beating the Indians 4-0 in the AL wild-card game. In the past four days, the Rays have won in Toronto, Texas and Cleveland, a had-to-have, three-game sweep that tested Tampa unlike any series this season.
“That’s three different venues, three difficult venues,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “All in enemy territory. I’m so proud of our guys.”
Cobb, sidelined for 50 games earlier this season after being hit in the head by a line drive, quieted one of the few sellout crowds at Progressive Field this season and ended the Indians’ unexpected postseason abruptly.
Delmon Young homered in the third inning off rookie Danny Salazar and Desmond Jennings hit a two-run double as the Rays advanced to face the AL East champion Red Sox in the best-of-five division series starting Friday at Fenway Park.
Boston went 12-7 against Tampa Bay and Maddon knows his team is facing a daunting challenge.
“We probably hit .207 against them,” he said. “They pitched really pitched well against us. We just did not swing the bats well, and that speaks to their pitching. They have a really good pitching staff. They have a great starting staff. They have a tremendous bullpen. I do anticipate a lot of the same in the playoffs as we continue.”
The Rays have been on the road since Sept. 24, when they opened a three-game series in New York. Then it was off to Toronto, where they lost two games to the Blue Jays before winning the regular-season finale to force a one-game tiebreaker with the Rangers. In Arlington, Texas, Price pitched a complete game in a 5-2 win, sending the Rays to Cleveland.
It’s been a whirlwind of hotel lobbies, buses and restaurants. They miss the comforts of home.
“I’ve got to wash some clothes or buy some socks or something,” first baseman James Loney said.
After beating the Indians, the Rays shut off the lights, cranked up the music and turned their clubhouse into a downtown Cleveland nightclub.
As Pitbull’s “Don’t Stop The Party” boomed off walls covered by plastic sheets, they sprayed each other with Silly String and splashed in champagne like kids at a water park.
This road trip is rocking.
“Nobody wants to go home,” Cobb said.
Cobb’s comeback in August from his frightening injury helped stabilize the Rays, who have spent the past two weeks winning crucial games to reach the postseason for the fourth time in six years. He pitched out of massive jams in the fourth and fifth, and allowed two runners to reach in the seventh before turning it over to Tampa Bay’s dependable bullpen.
“Maybe it was good that I got into some jams,” Cobb said. “It made me slow down and make the pitches that I needed to.” Fernando Rodney worked a perfect ninth, striking out Lonnie Chisenhall to end it. Rodney dropped to one knee, pointed skyward and soon was mobbed by all the Rays, who may be homesick but aren’t complaining about having to pack their bags for at least one more series on the road.
“We feel like we can win any game, any time, any place,” Cobb said. “You know the last part of our schedule, we felt like going into New York and Toronto kind of helped us when we got to Texas, playing on the road. We played some tough games at home, and just at the end of the season to help us get ready for the situation we’re in now.”
Price had set the tone for the Rays’ postseason run by throwing a complete game to stifle the Rangers in the wild-card tiebreaker Monday night, and Cobb picked up where his teammate left off. After he was pulled in the seventh, Cobb walked to the dugout where he was first greeted with a high-five from Price.
“The adrenaline was going pretty fast there in the early going,” Cobb said. “Once Delmon hit that home run, I tried to fill up the strike zone. My stuff wasn’t the best, but I made my defense work. They were awesome.”
At one point this season, Cobb wasn’t even sure he would pitch again.
On June 15, Cobb suffered a concussion when he was struck in the right ear by a line drive hit by Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer. Cobb was sidelined for 50 games and Tuesday recalled lying on his sofa and wondering if he would be able to help the Rays again. In 2011, he missed the playoffs after having surgery to remove a blood clot.
“I appreciated being back out there, and then when I did get back out there, I vowed to never forget that feeling I had back at home watching the team and to leave it all out on the field really,” he said. “It’s been a whirlwind for sure.”
And the Rays don’t want it to end.
NOTES: Young is appearing in his fifth straight postseason: two with Minnesota, two with Detroit and this one with Tampa Bay. … The Indians were last shut out in the postseason in 1998 against the Yankees. … 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. Cleveland manager Terry Francona said it “wasn’t a tough decision” and said part of it was out of loyalty to the two-time All-Star. … Rays RHP Jamey Wright was selected to his first postseason roster in his 18th major league season. … Former Indians slugger Jim Thome was in attendance and got a rousing ovation when shown on the scoreboard.