Since the introduction of the second Wild Card team in 2012, the playoffs have added an extra element of excitement as it kicks off with a game between the two teams that were great, but just not good enough to win their divisions, in a winner take all deathmatch that captures the attention of the baseball universe.
In 2013, the Tampa Bay Rays were one of these solid teams that failed to win their division. During the final weeks of the regular season, the Rays shared an epic dash to the postseason with the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians.
Over the final two weeks of the regular season, that trio of teams posted the best records in all of baseball as the Rangers won 8 of 11, the Rays won 9 of 11, and the Indians won 9 consecutive games to capture the top American League Wild Card spot.
The Rangers and Rays after 162 games, had both finished with a record of 92-71. They would face off in a tie breaker game to decide who would take on Cleveland in the American League Wild Card game.
Tampa Bay defeated Texas behind a complete performance from David Price.
On October 2rd, 2013, the Tampa Bay Rays met up with the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.
Tabbed with starting the game for Tampa Bay was Alex Cobb, who had quietly put together a tremendous season for the Rays. He would have been a candidate for the Cy Young award, if not for a horrific injury suffered earlier in the year, in which he was struck in the head by a line drive.
Cobb recovered in time to help the Rays down the stretch, and now he was slated to start one of the most important games in franchise history.
He did not disappoint.
Meanwhile, the Indians went with their 23-year-old rookie, Danny Salazar, who had all of 10 games in the majors. He had been dominant for Cleveland since earning his first promotion to the big leagues in July, striking out over 30% of opposing hitters he faced and accruing a 3.12 ERA.
The game trickled along with both pitchers dominating out of the gate. The first two innings went by without a run being scored, the only hitter to reach base was Ryan Raburn, who doubled.
In the top of the 3rd, former uber-prospect constant PR nightmare turned uber-bust and even more constant PR nightmare, Delmon Young belted a tremendous moonshot — and slightly less tremendous bat flip — over the high left field wall to give the Rays an early 1-0 lead.
That run was all Alex Cobb needed.
The Cleveland offense put constant pressure on Cobb, but he worked his way in and out danger throughout the course of the night.
Runners on the corners in the 4th were erased on a double play.
In the 5th inning, Cleveland had runners on the corners once again, this time with nobody out. Cobb walked the tightrope as he kept the within the friendly confines of the infield for the next three outs to keep the Indians in check.
Meanwhile, a Desmond Jennings 4th inning double brought two more runs home for Tampa Bay to make it, 3-0.
Alex Cobb once again found himself in trouble in the 7th inning, allowing two more base hits, but also tallying two more outs. He left the game with those runners aboard.
Overall, Cobb worked 6 2⁄3 shutout innings, despite yielding 8 hits over the course of the night. He racked up 5 strikeouts and walked a batter as well.
It was now the bullpen’s turn to dominate.
Joel Peralta struck out Nick Swisher on three pitches to end the inning and the threat.
Peralta sandwiched a single between two pop outs in the eighth, before giving way to Jake McGee. The flamethrowing lefty struck out Ryan Raburn to end the inning.
The Rays picked up their 4th run of the game in the 9th, as Yunel Escobar lined a ball of the glove of Swisher at first and into right field to score Sam Fuld from third.
In the bottom half of the frame, Joe Maddon called upon Fernando Rodney to close things out.
Rodney was coming off a historic season in 2012, and although 2013 hadn’t been as great, he was a solid closer for the Rays.
He struck out Asdrubal Cabrera. Yan Gomes lined out. Lonnie Chisenhall struck out.
The Rays were the 2013 American League Wild Card winners.
Unfortunately, their winning ways ran into a brick wall as they took on the Boston Red Sox in the American League division series, losing it in four games and ending their season. The Rays have been in the playoffs since.