CLEVELAND -- As Game 2 of the American League Wild Card Series between the Rays and Guardians crept on, Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash began to wonder when the scoreless contest started to make history.
As it turned out, history was made in the 13th inning on Saturday afternoon at Progressive Field: Steven Kwan’s flyout to end that frame made it the longest scoreless game in postseason history. The game finally ended two innings later, when Oscar Gonzalez belted a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 15th to give Cleveland a 1-0 win and a berth in the AL Division Series against the Yankees.
“Once we got to the 10th, 11th and 12th, it was crossing my mind, like how many games, postseason games, have you seen like this before?” Cash said.
Prior to Gonzalez’s walk-off blast, the best scoring chance for either team came in the sixth inning, when the Guardians loaded the bases thanks to a pair of walks by Rays reliever Pete Fairbanks (who left the game after the second), followed by Jason Adam plunking Amed Rosario. Adam was able to wiggle out of the jam, however, by striking out José Ramírez and getting Josh Naylor to ground into a double play.
“We talked to them before the series started, and we said [it would] be like the season, where there's ups and downs and ebbs and flows,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “So just keep grinding, keep playing. And they did a really good job of that. Because there was a lot of frustration on both sides. Nobody was scoring.”
The Rays’ best chance to score came in the 12th, when Manuel Margot dribbled a ball down the third-base line that Ramírez made a fantastic play on, barely nabbing Margot with an off-balance throw from foul territory. Tampa Bay challenged the call, but the inning-ending play stood.
Ramírez was able to field the tough hop, get it out of his glove quickly and make a strong throw to first, which Naylor scooped while keeping his left foot on the bag.
The teams combined for just 11 hits -- 10 of which were singles -- and set a new postseason record with 39 strikeouts, eclipsing the previous high of 37 set by the Braves and Reds in the 2020 National League Wild Card Series. The Rays and Guardians combined to use 24 position players and 16 pitchers (who threw 432 pitches), and no player recorded multiple hits until Gonzalez’s walk-off blast.
“They have a good staff and we have a pretty good staff, and I think you saw that today,” Fairbanks said.
Some other notes from the four-hour, 57-minute marathon:
• This was the 11th game in postseason history to reach the 10th inning without either team scoring. It was the first AL postseason game to do so since Cleveland beat Baltimore, 1-0, in 11 innings in Game 6 of the 1997 AL Championship Series to advance to the World Series.
• It ultimately became the longest scoreless game of any kind -- regular season or postseason -- since the Rays dropped a 1-0 decision to the Red Sox in 16 innings on July 17, 2011.
• Going back to the top of the seventh inning in Game 1 of the series, Tampa Bay and Cleveland combined to post 34 straight scoreless half-innings. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the longest streak to occur in a postseason series, smashing the previous record of 28 (1999 NLCS Games 3 and 4 between the Braves and Mets).
• This was the seventh game in postseason history to last at least 15 innings, and it stands as the longest since the Dodgers and Red Sox dueled for 18 innings in Game 3 of the 2018 World Series.
• It was the third-longest series-clinching postseason game, trailing only Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS (Astros over Braves in 18 innings) and Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS (Mets over Astros in 16).
• The losing pitcher was longtime Cleveland ace Corey Kluber, who entered in the 13th inning and eventually yielded Gonzalez’s walk-off homer in the 15th. It was only the sixth relief appearance in the two-time AL Cy Young Award winner’s career and the first since April 20, 2013, at Houston. Kluber had not entered a game mid-inning since his Major League debut on Sept. 1, 2011, against Oakland.
• Gonzalez became the 13th player to crush a walk-off home run to clinch a postseason series. Among that group, this was the second latest. Only the Astros’ Chris Burke, who hit one in the 18th inning in Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS against the Braves, walked it off deeper into a game.
• Gonzalez is the fourth player with a walk-off homer in the 15th inning or later of any postseason game, joining Burke, the Dodgers’ Max Muncy (18th; 2018 World Series Game 3) and the Yankees’ Jim Leyritz (15th; 1995 ALDS Game 2).
• The last time Cleveland hit a walk-off home run in the 15th inning or later of any game, regular season or postseason? That would be June 27, 1965, when Chuck Hinton beat the Kansas City A’s in the 15th inning of Game 1 of a doubleheader. Francona was 6 years old at the time.