The visiting Tampa Bay Rays claimed the last berth in Major League Baseball’s post-season and a measure of revenge by beating the Texas Rangers 5-2 in a wild-card tiebreaker on Monday.
Tampa Bay’s slugging third baseman Evan Longoria went three-for-four with a single, a double and a two-run homer to support reigning Cy Young Award winner David Price, who hurled a complete game seven-hitter for the win.
Victory in the tiebreaker, which was needed after the two teams finished the regular season with identical 91-71 records, gave the Rays the American League’s second wild-card berth.
They next face the Cleveland Indians in a one-off game today with the winner to play a best-of-five Division Series against top-seeded American League East champions the Boston Red Sox.
There was also a measure of revenge for Tampa Bay, who had been eliminated by Texas in the Division Series in their last two playoff appearances in 2010 and 2011.
“Was kind of fitting that we had to go through these guys to get to the post-season, seeing as we’ve had some heartbreaks here in the past,” Longoria told reporters.
Price improved to 10-8 in the game that counted as the 163rd of the regular season, while the Rangers’ 22-year-old rookie left-hander Martin Perez of Venezuela dropped to 10-6 after giving up three runs in 5-1/3 innings.
Hard-throwing Price, who entered the game with a 1-7 career record against Texas, including three playoff losses, was not at his best, but grew stronger as the game wore on.
Price helped his cause by picking off two baserunners in the early innings and turned Elvis Andrus’ bid for a bunt single in the eighth into an out by flipping the ball from his glove to first baseman James Loney to deny the speedy Rangers player.
“This was pretty special,” said Price, who said the pick-offs of Andrus and Ian Kinsler probably saved him about 10 pitches and helped him go the distance on 118 pitches.
Rays manager Joe Maddon left Price in to finish the job, rather than go to his usual late-inning, one-two punch of setup man Joel Peralta and closer Fernando Rodney.
“He just let me go and I appreciate it,” said Price, who was mobbed at the mound in the Rays’ celebration.
Tampa Bay surged from the start, scoring on a sacrifice fly by Delmon Young in the first inning for a 1-0 lead, before Longoria sent a low fastball from Perez over the wall in right-center for a two-run homer and a 3-0 lead in the third.
Kinsler’s bloop single scored Craig Gentry in the bottom of the third to cut the advantage to 3-1.
A double by Longoria in the sixth led to another run when pinch-hitter David DeJesus doubled him home to make it 4-1.
Again, the Rangers answered, making it 4-2 on Alex Rios’ booming double high off the wall in left-center scored Andrus.
The Tampa Bay Rays should have padded their lead in the seventh, but the umpires ruled that Texas center fielder Leonys Martin made a diving catch of Young’s fly ball as Rays runners were rounding the bases, though replays showed he had trapped it.
The Rays got their insurance run in the top of the ninth inning when Sam Fuld surprised reliever Tanner Scheppers by breaking for third base and drawing a wild throw from the reliever that allowed him to scamper home for the final run.
The game also saw the return of Texas slugger Nelson Cruz, who had 27 homers and 76 RBIs before he was hit with a 50-game drug suspension. He was a non-factor, going none-for-four as the designated hitter.
“I’m disappointed. We didn’t get it done,” said Rangers manager Ron Washington, whose team missed out on the post-season for the first time since 2009. “I’ve got no excuse for that.”
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