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Price, Longoria lead Rays to wild-card game

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Published:   |   Updated: October 1, 2013 at 06:39 AM

ARLINGTON, Texas — They stood in the center of the visiting clubhouse, at the Rangers Ballpark no less, and chanted “One more game, hey! One more game, hey.”

Over and over.

They did this in a small room that smelled of spilled beer and champagne and cigars.

The Tampa Bay Rays flipped the script on their late-season history with the Texas Rangers and advanced to their fourth postseason in six years with a 5-2 victory in a one-game tiebreaker to settle the final AL wild-card team.

The win sends the Rays to Cleveland on Wednesday for the wild-card playoff game with the Indians.

The winner advances to the AL Division Series against the Boston Red Sox.

Ben Zobrist, standing amid the celebration, thought Monday's win will carry the Rays a lot farther than Cleveland.

“It was the hump we needed to get over, especially here in Texas,” he said. “We hope that this is the beginning. We want to celebrate again on Wednesday and again and again, everything, right through the World Series.”

The historic win - it was the first time a tiebreaker was needed to determine a participant in a wild-card game - belonged to David Price and Evan Longoria.

“Our two main guys,” Zobrist called them.

Price, who has struggled mightily against the Rangers during his career, exorcised that past by pitching a complete game.

“He wanted it as much as he wanted oxygen,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “He just wanted to win that game and he wanted to be the guy.”

Price, the AL's 2012 Cy Young Award winner, allowed two runs on seven hits for his fourth complete game of the season.

“It was one of the best pitching performances I've ever seen,” Jeremy Hellickson said. “That's why he's Cy. That's we call him Cy Young. He comes out in the biggest game of probably his career, definitely this season, and goes out and did what he did.”

Evan Longoria continued to sparkle on the final day of the regular season, be it Game 162 or 163, and powered the Rays offense with a two-run homer as a part of a three-hit night. He also scored twice.

“He definitely had a good look about him,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “You knew he would play well in a game like this.”

Mr. 162 now has six home runs during the last three regular-season finales.

It was Longoria who said Sunday, a few hours after the Rays set up the one-game tiebreaker against their nemesis with a win against the Blue Jays in Toronto, that he and his teammates were heading to Texas to take care of some unfinished business.

After all, it was the Rangers who knocked the Rays out of the ALDS in 2010 and 2011.

“It's fitting that we had to go down this road,” Longoria said. “It's great to leave here celebrating, instead of with our heads down.”

Longoria and Price, two members of the Rays' 2008 World Series club, starred in the game the Rays needed to win to return to the postseason.

“Price and Longo, those are our best players and they really showed it,” Zobrist said. “They came to play, and they came and led the team.”

It was the 14th tiebreaker game/series in major league history, the fourth since 2007.

The Rays jumped on rookie left-hander Martin Perez, reaching him for three hits and a walk in the first inning but only one run.

Desmond Jennings, who returned after missing the last seven games with a left hamstring strain, lined Perez's first pitch down the left-field line and in a risky move, tried to stretch the hit into a double. He was out.

That loomed large when Wil Myers drew a walk and Zobrist and Longoria both singled to load the bases. Delmon Young drove in the first run of the game with a sacrifice fly to deep center field.

But that was the only run the Rays would get. Sean Rodriguez struck out to end the threat.

That theme for the second half of the season recurred Monday as the Rays left the bases loaded in the sixth inning, too.

The did score a run when Longoria doubled with one out and David DeJesus, pinch-hitting for Rodriguez against right-hander Alexi Ogando, doubled to right field with two outs.

Walks to James Loney and Yunel Escobar loaded the bases, but Jose Molina line out softly to second base.

In between the wasted opportunities was Longoria's two-run homer in the third inning that gave the Rays a 3-0 lead.

“I didn't know much about (Perez),” Longoria said. “I was looking for a fastball. He just made a mistake. I didn't have any other game plan. I was just trying to get in the moment.”

It was Longoria's 32nd home run of the season and his seventh career home run on the final day of the regular season.

Young, who joined Carl Furillo and Duke Snider as the only players to play in three tiebreaking games or series, was robbed of a run-scoring hit in the seventh inning. With two on and two out, Young drove a sinking like drive to center field. Leonys Martin caught the ball on the short hop but left field umpire Bruce Dreckman - two outfield umpires were added for the game - ruled Martin caught the ball.

The Rangers scored their first run in the third inning when Ian Kinsler singled home Craig Gentry. Price caught Kinsler leaning toward second and Kinsler was out after a quick rundown. Officially it was a caught-stealing. It was also the second baserunner Price caught leaning toward second. He picked Elvis Andrus off first base in the first inning.

The Rangers trimmed the Rays' lead to 4-2 in the sixth inning when Alex Rios doubled home Andrus.

But the Rays added an insurance run in the ninth when Sam Fuld, who entered as a defensive replacement for Jennings, hit a leadoff single and moved to second on a groundout to third base by Myers. Fuld broke for third before Rangers pitcher Tanner Scheppers threw home. Scheppers stepped off and threw to third, but his throw sailed past Beltre and Fuld scored easily.

Maddon sent Price back out for the ninth because he felt the left-hander was getting stronger as the game moved along. Price allowed just one hit over the final three innings and retired the final five batters he faced.

“That's the sign of a champion,” Maddon said. “The way he was throwing I wasn't going to take him out of the game. That was David at his best at the end of the game.”

The Rays finished the season with wins in nine of their last 11 games. Those two losses in Toronto were the difference between the Rays hosting Wednesday's wild-card game and now needing to win a second elimination game to reach Boston.

Naturally, the Rays relish taken the tougher road.

“There's a high level of gratification and satisfaction based on what we just did,” Maddon said. “We've had our moments. We've taken several mulligans this year and we still were able to come out with our 92nd win of the season. It actually counts as 92 doesn't it? That's pretty cool. So you get your 92nd win, you go to Cleveland against a really good ballclub.

“You know they're going to be ready. They're rested, but I like the factor, the notion that we've pretty much been playing this game for about a week now. This game has been a carryover for the last week, so we've been playing these elimination games for a bit, and I'm really proud of our guys.”

 

rmooney@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7227

Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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