The Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers are pushing the regular season to game No. 163.
On a Sunday punctuated by Miami’s Henderson Alvarez pitching a no-hitter, Tampa Bay and Texas both had victories, winding up level and forcing a tiebreaker for the second American League wild-card spot.
The Rays were to play at Texas yesterday, with the winners visiting Cleveland tomorrow in another all-or-nothing matchup.
Rangers rookie Martin Perez starts against reigning American League Cy Young Award winner David Price. Texas get a boost, too — All-Star slugger Nelson Cruz will be active after his 50-game penalty from Major League Baseball in the Biogenesis drug scandal.
“He’s served his suspension,” Rays star Evan Longoria said. “It is what it is. Justice has been served.”
Asked if he expected to play, Cruz said: “I think so.”
It will be baseball’s first tiebreaker — officially it is a regular-season game and the stats count — since Minnesota beat Detroit 6-5 in 12 innings for the 2009 American League Central title.
What was supposed to be the final day of the regular season began with the possibility of a three-way tie for a pair of American League wild-card spots.
Instead, Cleveland clinched their first post-season berth since 2007, winning 5-1 at Minnesota to finish at 92-70, one game ahead of Texas and Tampa Bay as the top wild card.
Nick Swisher homered as the Indians became the first major league team to win their final 10 regular-season games since Baltimore closed with 11 straight victories in 1971.
“I’m telling you, we’re bringing that wild-card game back to the 216, and that place is going to be packed out and rockin’, baby,” Swisher said, citing Cleveland’s area code.
Rookie Danny Salazar is set to start for the Indians against either Texas or Tampa Bay.
The National League playoff scene is settled.
Johnny Cueto starts for Cincinnati against Francisco Liriano and the Pirates at Pittsburgh today in the National League wild-card playoff.
In the best-of-five division series, the Los Angeles Dodgers start at Atlanta and the National League wild-card winners are at St Louis. In the American League, Detroit open at Oakland and the wild card visits Boston.
Texas won their seventh in a row, downing the visiting Los Angeles Angels 6-2. Tampa Bay held on for a 7-6 win against the Toronto Blue Jays.
To the Rays, the tiebreaker is a chance for payback. Texas beat Tampa Bay in the division series in 2010 and 2011. The Rangers are hosting this game because they won the season series, 4-3.
“We have something to prove in Texas,” Longoria said. “We’ve left that place too many times with our heads down and disappointed. I feel like now is the time to be able to turn that page.”
The Tigers also are ready to move on.
Alvarez threw a no-hitter against the American League Central champions as the Marlins won 1-0 on a two-out wild pitch with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Before the wrap-up in Miami, Detroit manager Jim Leyland said the Tigers were already looking ahead.
“I want to play this game, I want to win this game, but I want to get this over with and get home,” Leyland said. “Guys are anxious. They want to get to the post-season.”
Alvarez sent them on their way, all right.
It was the fourth season-ending no-hitter ever and the first since Mike Witt of the Angels threw a perfect game at Texas in 1984.