Behind Alex Cobb and clutch hits from two unlikely sources the Rays are advancing to the ALDS.
Let's start with Cobb. He admittedly wasn't at his best, saying his fastball location was all over the place and his changeup wasn't there. He countered that by throwing a career high 35 curveballs. five of which went for first pitch strikes. His changeup is one of the best pitches in baseball, but it was M.I.A tonight due to ineffectiveness and Cleveland's great success against the pitch. Being able to mix in an above-average breaking pitch more this season (up 4% from last year) has been key to his continued development.
His final line may be clean but he ran into a few tough situations along the way, wiggling his way out each time. After a one out double by Carlos Santana in the fourth inning, Michael Brantley hit a ball up the middle that looked like a sure hit, but Ben Zobrist dove and stopped it, narrowly missing throwing Brantley out at first. The fact that he got to that ball prevented Santana from scoring on the play. After a walk to Ryan Raburn, Asdrubal Cabrera grounded into a 3-6-1 double play to end the inning with the Rays still leading 3-0.
The hairiest situation came in the next inning with men on first and third and no out. Michael Bourn, who looked terrible all night, struck out. Nick Swisher then hit a ground ball to James Loney at first base who stepped on the bag but then threw home to hold the runner at third. That allowed Lonnie Chisenhall to advance to second, but prevented a run from scoring. Had Loney thrown the ball to second Chisenhall would have been in a run down, surely avoiding the tag long enough for the run to score. Jason Kipnis grounded out in the next at bat to end the threat.
Cobb would work two outs into the seventh inning before being lifted for Joel Peralta. On a night where he wasn't his best, and had his best pitch virtually taken away from him, Cobb great. He made the pitches when he needed to and ended up getting nine groundball outs -- his bread and butter. Working into the seventh inning also allowed the bullpen to rest up for the series in Boston. Not bad for his first playoff start.
Delmon Young of all people got the scoring started off in the third inning, swinging at the first pitch he saw -- a 95mph fastball at the letters -- and blasting it over the left field wall. Right handed batters slugged over .550 against Danny Salazar's fastball this season. Delmon Young is a fastball hitter who isn't afraid to swing. On this night, Delmon came out on top. With two outs and two on in the fourth inning Desmond Jennings, he of the .697 OPS against right handed pitching in 2013, laced a two run double down the left field line, pushing the Rays lead to 3-0. Yunel Escobar would add an run scoring single in the ninth to give the Rays added insurance.
This wild ride continues Friday in Boston, the Rays fourth game in four different cities inside of a week. If they lose the first game this time at least they won't be eliminated right away, which is going to be a welcomed feeling.