162 games are in the books, but the fun is just beginning. The two AL Wild Card teams have it tough, playing in a one-game playoff to determine who will advance to the ALDS, but we still don’t know who those teams are as the Rays and Rangers ended the season tied for the second spot. In order to get there, however, we had to see plenty of drama on the season’s final day, a taste of the playoff excitement we all can’t wait to experience in the next few weeks.
Rays 7, Blue Jays 6
The Rays and the first-place Indians have bookended the last three months of the season with nearly identical stretches. The Indians’ 14-2 stretch to end the season is eerily identical to the Rays’ 14-2 run to end the first half, and both played the Astros, White Sox, and Twins to make it happen. For the Rays, their final game of the season seemed like a microcosm of the turmoil that has ensued since then. The only question would be the ending, but the Rays found a way to make it a positive.
The Rays rallied for six runs in the first inning as the knocked Jays starter Todd Redmond out after just two-thirds of an inning, with James Loney, Evan Longoria, Delmon Young, Jose Lobaton, and Yunel Escobar delivering the RBIs as they batted around. The Rays looked dominant and were poised to make sure Game 162 didn’t get too tense this time around. But like the second half of the season, boy were we wrong. The Rays added to their lead in the fourth on a Wil Myers RBI double, but that was it. The rest of the game saw the runs stop coming and Rays pitching doing everything they could to make sure their sinking ship lasted until the end.
Matt Moore got past a three-walk first inning to toss shutout ball for the first five, but he suddenly came apart in the sixth, allowing four straight hits and two runs, with the big hit being a Mark DeRosa RBI double. Jake McGee allowed an inherited runner to score and suddenly it was 7-3 Rays. The following inning saw McGee struggle, allowing a single, a walk, and a Brett Lawrie RBI double with 1 out before he departed in favor of Joel Peralta. The Rays needed all the bells and whistles they could muster to escape that jam, with Joe Maddon getting ejected for arguing balls and strikes after Peralta walked the first batter he faced, somehow inspiring Peralta to force an inning ending 6-4-3 double play. But after Peralta allowed a Kevin Pillar single to give Toronto two runners on with two outs in the eighth, Fernando Rodney was called upon to escape the jam. Instead, Rodney allowed RBI singles to Jose Reyes and Anthony Gose before finally getting out of the inning. The score of the game was 7-6 as Rodney came back out for the ninth. In the ninth, however, Rodney allowed an Adam Lind single but retired the next three batters he faced as the Rays survived by a 7-6 score. After overcoming a 7-0 deficit to win Game 162 in 2011, it seemed like the tables were turning. But the Rays found a way to made sure their 7-0 lead held up, and although they would have preferred a far easier game, they will live to play another day.
Indians 5, Twins 1
The Indians had the easiest schedule of anyone the last couple weeks of the season, but that didn’t mean that just anyone would have gone 14-2. The Indians executed once again to ensure that the craziness of tomorrow will not involve them. Ubaldo Jimenez started for Cleveland and ended his bounce-back season with one of his most dominant performances yet, going 6.2 innings allowing just 1 run on 5 hits, striking out 13 while walking 1. The Indians suppported him in the first inning on a two-run home run by Nick Swisher before taking a couple of gift runs in the sixth thanks to a pair of Twins errors. Then Carlos Santana capped the scoring in the seventh with an RBI double to give the Indians a 5-0 lead. Jimenez did finally allow a run in the bottom of the seventh, but Marc Rzepcynski retired both batters he faced before Justin Masterson finished off the game with 1.2 perfect innings to finish off the game. The Indians punched their Wild Card ticket without much difficulty and will wait to see which team they will face next. The one negative in the game was that Michael Bourn left in the ninth inning with a calf injury, but it appears that he will be ready for Wednesday’s game.
Rangers 6, Angels 2
Watching from their clubhouse after their narrow victory, the Rays cheered when their former number one overall pick, Josh Hamilton, delivered a two-out RBI single in the sixth off Neil Cotts to tie this game up at 2. However, the Rays’ hopes for a 2011 Red Sox-esque Rangers collapse did not come to fruition. Yu Darvish was knocked out after only 5.2 innings, but beyond the Hamilton hit Cotts allowed, the Rangers bullpen didn’t give up much. And on the offensive side, Craig Gentry delivered a two-run single in the fifth inning off Jason Vargas before the Rangers added a run each in the sixth and seventh and two more off Ernesto Frieri in the ninth to pull away for a 6-2 victory. The Rangers got key contributions from two of their lesser-touted hitters as Geovany Soto and Gentry both had two hits and two RBI, and those key contributions proved to be enough as the Rangers advanced to the tiebreaker game against the Rays.
Game 162 provideed plenty of excitement, but it will come down to the Game 163 tiebreaker between the Rays and Rangers to determine who will be the second AL Wild Card. Here are your standings through 162 games and your pitching matchup for Monday night.
1. Cleveland (92-70), +1.0
T2. Texas (91-71), —
T2. Tampa Bay (91-71), —