Road to the World Series: Oct. 3, 2013
The Tampa Bay Rays once again put the Wild in Wild Card, and now we've got ourselves four divine Division Series all set to begin.
The Rays went up against an Indians team that had won 10 in a row on Wednesday night, in a sold-out Progressive Field in Cleveland, and got a brilliant start from Alex Cobb and a 4-0 victory that booked their ticket for the American League Division Series that begins in Boston on Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET on TBS.
The Road to the World Series is down to eight teams, and Division Series play begins Thursday with both Game 1s in the National League.
But on Wednesday night, it was all about the AL, and the Rays, not surprisingly, did it with pitching, which is the way they've been doing it all year long.
Cobb went 6 2/3 scoreless innings, the bullpen took care of the rest, Delmon Young hit a long home run, and the Rays had pulled off the improbable: winning two consecutive elimination games on the road, counting the Game No. 163 tiebreaker over the Rangers in Texas just to get to Cleveland.
Considering the Rays had finished off the regular season by winning in New York and Toronto before venturing to Texas and then Cleveland, a best-of-five set as the visiting team against the AL's top seed in the Red Sox might not seem like such a big deal.
"We've done it," Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings said. "We've been here before. The road we took to get here was pretty tough, going into New York and Toronto [at the end of the regular season] and having to go on the road in Texas and then coming here against these fans. It's tough, but I guess we bring it."
They brought it early on Wednesday. Young's mammoth solo home run in the third inning against hard-throwing Cleveland rookie starter Danny Salazar quieted Progressive, and the Rays added two runs in the pivotal fourth.
Cobb did what he had to do, and so did the Rays who played behind him. The key play was an inning-ending, bases-loaded, 3-6-1 double play in the bottom of the fourth that had Cobb pumping his fist as he walked back to the dugout.
"Once Delmon hit that home run and it added a little bit of a run to work with, I tried to develop the strike zone," Cobb said.
"And my stuff wasn't the best it's been, but I made my defense work and they were awesome. Everybody in the infield contributed, [catcher] Jose [Molina] called a great game, he stuck with me the whole game, he knew the stuff wasn't sharp but he got really creative back there and made it work."
The Indians capped off a stellar, improbable season in which they rebounded from a 94-loss 2012 to capture home-field advantage in the AL Wild Card Game.
#TribeTown was rocking tonight! Thank you for your support this year…we'll be back.- Cleveland Indians (@Indians) October 3, 2013
Tribe manager Terry Francona agreed with that sentiment, but it didn't make the end result any easier.
"We knew what we were getting into today, and they outplayed us," Francona said. "We were excited about coming into the game, and we lost, so now we've got to go home, and that hurts."
Meanwhile, the horizon is barely visible beyond the Road to the World Series, and the NL takes over on Thursday.
The first game of the doubleheader that stretches from the Gateway Arch to Peachtree Street will match up familiar rivals: the NL Central's own Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals, who get things going with a 5 p.m. ET start at Busch Stadium on TBS.
The Cardinals, who won the World Series two years ago and came within one game of making it back to the Fall Classic last year, will rely on 19-game winner Adam Wainwright, while the Pirates have a veteran of their own in A.J. Burnett.
Wainwright is well aware of how good the Pirates are. He's faced them three times already in 2013.
"It's just a lineup that can beat you in a lot of different ways," Wainwright said. "There is tremendous speed out there with [Starling] Marte and [Andrew] McCutchen, and guys that can hit the ball out of the ballpark all the way down the order, as we saw [Tuesday]. It's a good opponent with a very good starting pitcher on the mound on the other side. So I'm excited for the challenge."
So is Burnett, who took the ball six times against the Cardinals in the regular season and went 3-1 with a 3.67 ERA.
"It means a lot," Burnett said about getting the ball for Game 1. "I wouldn't want it any other way. … We have a lot of work still to be done, a lot of games to be played. … Now we have to get ready for another series."
The Dodgers and Braves have to be feeling the same way after waiting around for their series to begin. It happens Thursday as well, with the first pitch at Turner Field set for 8:30 p.m. ET on TBS.
The Dodgers will throw their former Cy Young Award winner and current Cy Young Award favorite, Clayton Kershaw, against Braves right-hander Kris Medlen, who has been superb late in the season.
Medlen had a 1.29 ERA in his last eight starts and a 0.84 ERA in his final six outings. Kershaw had a 1.83 ERA for the entire season. In other words, this could be a serious pitchers' duel, but Medlen seems more than OK with Kershaw and the Dodgers getting the top billing.
"It's really not that big of a deal that they get more attention than us," Medlen said. "At the end of the day, I hope we're getting all the attention with the World Series."
Today's Division Series games
Pirates (Burnett) at Cardinals (Wainwright), 5 p.m. ET Preview >
Dodgers (Kershaw) at Braves (Medlen), 8:30 p.m. ET Preview >
2013 MLB POSTSEASON MATCHUPS
Division Series: Rays at Red Sox | Tigers at A's
Division Series: Pirates at Cardinals | Dodgers at Braves
2013 postseason schedule
NL Division Series
Game 1: Pirates at Cardinals, Thursday, 5 p.m. ET
Game 2: Pirates at Cardinals, Friday, 1 p.m. ET
Game 3: Cardinals at Pirates, Sunday, TBD
Game 4*: Cardinals at Pirates, Monday, TBD
Game 5*: Pirates at Cardinals, Wednesday, TBD
* - if necessary
Game 1: Dodgers at Braves, Thursday, 8:30 p.m. ET
Game 2: Dodgers at Braves, Friday, 6 p.m. ET
Game 3: Braves at Dodgers, Sunday, TBD
Game 4*: Braves at Dodgers, Monday, TBD
Game 5*: Dodgers at Braves, Wednesday, TBD
* - if necessary
AL Division Series
Game 1: Rays at Red Sox, Friday, 3 p.m. ET
Game 2: Rays at Red Sox, Saturday, 5:30 p.m. ET
Game 3: Red Sox at Rays, Monday, TBD
Game 4*: Red Sox at Rays, Tuesday, TBD
Game 5*: Rays at Red Sox, Thursday, Oct. 10, TBD
* - if necessary
Game 1: Tigers at A's, Friday, 9:30 p.m. ET
Game 2: Tigers at A's, Saturday, 9 p.m. ET
Game 3: A's at Tigers, Monday, TBD
Game 4*: A's at Tigers, Tuesday, TBD
Game 5*: Tigers at A's, Thursday, Oct. 10, TBD
* - if necessary
NL Championship Series begins: Oct. 11
AL Championship Series begins: Oct. 12
World Series begins: Oct. 23