The major league baseball playoffs are officially set, even if Monday felt like the official introduction with the Tampa Bay-Texas tiebreaker game for the last American League wild-card. The Rays beat the Rangers in Arlington 5-2 and set us up for two more nights of one-and-done elimination baseball.
The Rustbelt is known more for its football, be it college or high school. But the 2 1/2 hour drive between the cities of Pittsburgh & Cleveland will be the heart of the baseball world these next two nights. Steelers-Browns might not have the cache it once did in this neck of the woods, but the Pirates and Indians are alive and well and set to host wild-card games.
Tuesday’s game will be in Pittsburgh, with the Pirates hosting the Cincinnati Reds. The pitching matchup is Francisco Liriano and Johnny Cueto. It’s a throwback postseason matchup in a lot of ways–prior to the realignment of 1994, these teams were in opposite divisions in the National League and they met in the NLCS in 1972, 1975, 1979 and 1990. The Reds won three of those series, with two of them (1975 and 1990) leading to World Series titles, while the lone Pirate win in 1979 also started a championship drive.
Wednesday’s game is quite as stepped in baseball lore, as Tampa Bay goes to Cleveland. There’s not even a good rivalry if we crisscross sports. Although if you assume most sports fans in Tampa root for Florida in college sports, then the Ohio State fans in the Cleveland area can feel like they owe them for consecutive championship game losses in 2006 college football and 2007 college basketball in the span of three months.
I’m digressing now. It’s looking like Cleveland is going to send young Danny Salazar to the mound. Tampa’s starter is still to be decided. We know only who it won’t be, and that’s David Price, who won on Monday night and Matt Moore who won on Sunday. And those two just happen to be Joe Maddon’s most reliable starters.
Both games are at 8 PM ET and carried by TBS. TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage will look back on both games in tandem on Thursday morning, and immediately ahead to the Division Series matchups that begin that night in the National League. The American League picks up in full on Friday.
LAST NIGHT IN TEXAS
Evan Longoria and David Price came up big in the biggest spot thus far for the Rays. Longoria had three hits, including a two-out two-run homer in the third that just cleared the fence and gave Price a 3-0 lead.
In reality, this game wasn’t that close. Tampa missed a few chances to put away Martin Perez, especially in the first inning when Desmond Jennings was thrown out on the bases and kept a potential big inning at only one run. And in the seventh, the Rays were robbed of at least one run when a bloop hit to center clearly hit the ground, but was ruled a catch. The missed call directly took one run off the board and as the third out, ended an inning that would have still had multiple runners on base.
Texas had its own mistakes, including a pair of runners lost on the basepaths. But Price always seemed in command and he went the distance on 118 pitches.
Joe Maddon’s decision to leave Price in was surprising, because after the seventh, Price had already taken his congratulations and hugs from his teammates and the bullpen was set to take over. Then Maddon had a change of heart. It was reminiscent of the 2003 ALCS in Game 7 when Boston manager Grady Little so infamously did the same thing with Pedro Martinez–and ironically Pedro was in the TBS studio tonight. But the ’13 Rangers lineup wasn’t quite as stacked as the ’03 Yankees and Price is more in his prime than Pedro was back at that time.
Congratulations to the 10 playoff teams, as well as Texas, who earned a 163rd game, even if it’s not a playoff game per se. Now let’s get on with the postseason.