Cleveland heartbreak: Indians shutout to halt postseason run
Cobb silences Tribe bats to eliminate Cleveland in wild card showdown
CLEVELAND—For a city that has endured countless pain and suffering when it comes to sports teams, Wednesday night at Progressive Field simply added more heartbreak.
The Indians first trip to the postseason in six years ended before it really started, as the Tampa Bay Rays behind the arm of 25-year old right-hander Alex Cobb shutout the Tribe, 4-0 to win the one-game wild card playoff, ending Cleveland’s season.
“We knew what we were getting into today, and they outplayed us,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “We were excited about coming into the game, and we lost, so now we’ve got to go home. That hurts.”
It was just the sixth time in franchise history the Tribe has been shutout in a postseason game, the last coming in Game 4 of the 1998 ALCS. The team has also now dropped four consecutive playoff games dating back to the 2007 ALCS against the Red Sox.
In front of a sea of red 43,579 fans packed into a sold out Progressive Field, Cobb stole the show limiting Indians hitters to eight hits over 6 2/3 scoreless innings.
“He didn’t pitch like a young pitcher,” Francona said. “We had our share of hits and we had our share of opportunities, but he took the sting out of our bats by changing speeds.”
The Tribe also featured an even younger pitcher in rookie Danny Salazar, who looked sharp at the outset the first time through the Rays lineup. At 23-years-old, the hard-throwing Salazar became the third youngest starter in Cleveland history to make a postseason debut.
Rays designated hitter Delmon Young got Tampa Bay on the board first with a leadoff homer to start the third inning. The long ball continues to be a problem for Salazar, as he has now allowed five of his eight big league home runs within the first two pitches he throws to a hitter.
Seven out of the eight home runs he has allowed in his career has now come against a right-handed hitter.
One inning later, the Rays offense was at it again, getting back-to-back base hits from infielders James Loney andEvan Longoria to put two runners on with one out for center fielder Desmond Jennings. On the second pitch to the speedy outfielder, Jennings lined a two-run double down the left field line to give Tampa a 3-0 lead.
The bleak Cleveland offense tried to fight back, loading up the bases in the home half of the fourth with one out against Cobb. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera ended thoughts of a potential rally, hitting into a double play to end the inning.
Offensively, the Indians would boast plenty chances to break out of their slump, but couldn’t cash in going 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position leaving nine on base.
“That will beat you right there,” Yan Gomes said. “It’s kind of tough, we feel like we had some opportunities, but their guy stepped up and we couldn’t get them in.”
The Tribe finished the game with no runs on nine hits, as only the 1943 St. Louis Cardinals had more hits with 10 while getting shutout in a postseason game.
Salazar took the loss allowing just the three runs on four hits over four innings pitched, walking two and striking out four.
“When he worked ahead in the count, he was tremendous,” Francona said. “When he fell behind, that’s when they got their hits in fastball counts. He’s going to be a special pitcher.”
Managing his first playoff game since 2009, the Tribe skipper met with his players following the tough loss.
“I just told them that as much as it’ll sting tonight, and it will, that once we get past that, for however long it takes, I want them to remember me and the staff,” Francona said. “It was an honor to go through the season with them and how much we care about them. That’s what I’ll remember more than anything.”
What the team will also remember is that taste for postseason play in Cleveland that they longed for so long.
“When you hear about playoff baseball, you always hear about guys that have been there and you never really know what it’s actually like,” Jason Kipnis said. “And now that I’ve had a little taste of it, I want nothing more than to get back there.”
“There’s going to be 29 other teams that are going to be disappointed at the end of the year, it sucks,” Kipnis said. “It’s going to sting tonight, but when we step back and look at it as a whole, this was an outstanding year for a lot of us in this organization. I’m excited for next year already.”
“Yeah you look at the o-fer and guys left on base, but sometimes you just tip your cap to Cobb, he pitched an outstanding game,” Kipnis said.
Over his last 11 starts going back to the regular season, the Tampa Bay right-hander is now 6-1 with a 2.29 ERA.
“He had a really good changeup tonight,” Swisher said. “I just think more than anything it was crazy how many he strikes he was throwing. Sometimes you run into a buzz saw like that and it’s tough.”
The overall tone of the clubhouse following the loss was one filled with of pure shock and optimism.
“The big turnaround this year going from the 94 losses to 92 wins is just a start,” Kipnis said. “We’re going to have a bunch of the same guys back next year and we’re going to be looking to get right back in the postseason.”
The team’s most vocal leader also agreed about next season.
“This organization looks like we’re on the up and up and to be one of the veteran guys, it’s going to be cool to see the young guys grow up in front of my eyes,” Swisher said. “We proved a lot of people wrong this year. We’re going to go home and this one is going to sting for awhile, but I think in the big picture we have to look at what we accomplished this year.”
His other teammates also chimed in about next season.
“I felt like we had a good year,” Bourn said. “We didn’t do what we wanted to do, but we’ll be back. It’s a long time until spring training starts, but for the most part, most of us will be back next year. It’s going to burn for awhile, that’s why the emphasis on the division is strong.”
“I think every single one of us enjoyed the fact that we made the playoffs,” Tribe ace Justin Masterson said. “Everyone wants to go further, but you have to start somewhere. I think this will be great for next year. With everyone having an understanding of this, we will comeback with even more of a hunger.”
Masterson pitched two innings in relief in the loss to the Rays, surrendering just one hit and striking out two.
“They beat us in every facet of the game, and when you do that you’re going to win games,” reliever Joe Smith said. “It’s a good learning experience for us, the first year Tito comes here and to get a taste of this. If you don’t want to be back out there on that field with that kind of energy, you’re crazy.”
Before entering a long offseason, a few Indians wanted to thank the Tribe faithful for their support.
“I want to say thank you to the fans for coming out showing their support,” Bourn said. “They gave it all they had, and they were behind us the whole way. I always appreciate that.”
“I cannot thank the fans enough for what they gave us tonight,” Swisher said. “The game’s over, and I’ve still got goosebumps. To not be able to give them a win, it’s frustrating because you kind of feel like you let them down. I could not be more proud to be a Cleveland Indian.
Francona also chimed in on the fans.
“I wish we could have given them a better game,” he said. The support was fantastic. We have some work to do in the offseason, take maybe an hour or two to rest, and then we’ll get back to work.”
Back to work on the field seems like it may be months away, but as the old saying in Cleveland goes, just wait till next year.
Follow Jim on Twitter @JBirdman27 or he can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.