CLEVELAND — As the Rays faced the Red Sox for the final scheduled time, separated by 9½ games the afternoon of Sept. 12, Rays manager Joe Maddon told Boston radio announcer Joe Castiglione, and later anyone else who would listen, that the teams would see each other again this season. Maddon was that confident in his team's chances, plus he really wanted to get back to the Summer Shack, one of his favorite restaurants.
Well, someone should tell them to fire up the grills and stock up on lobster, because Maddon and the rest of the Rays are indeed headed their way.
"That's right," Maddon said. "And that's good stuff."
They earned the visit by beating the Indians 4-0 Wednesday in the American League wild-card playoff, their second win-or-go-home road victory in three days, setting off another crazed clubhouse celebration that added Silly String to the standard champagne and beer sprayfest.
The best-of-five AL Division Series against the 97-win Red Sox opens Friday afternoon at Fenway Park, with Matt Moore set to face Jon Lester, and subplots aplenty.
"It's the last team that I'd want to play, but absolutely the first one," Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said. "We had to go through a lot to get to that point, but we got to them."
They got there Wednesday because of a third-inning homer by Delmon Young, a two-run double by Desmond Jennings and another dominant starting pitching performance, with Alex Cobb working into the seventh, helped out by some stellar defense and a shutdown bullpen.
"No words," Ben Zobrist said. "(Cobb) was that good."
The victory extended the Rays' vagabond journey as they flew out after the game to Boston, the fifth stop on a trip that started when they headed to New York Sept. 23 and has taken them to Toronto; Arlington, Texas; and Cleveland. Friday's game will be their fourth in four different cities in a six-day span.
The Red Sox won the season series 12-7 from the Rays, including three walkoff wins. The teams met in a memorable 2008 AL Championship Series, the Rays prevailing in seven games to reach their first, and still only, World Series.
"I really wanted to play them," catcher Jose Molina said. "It was a really tough year against them early, and we played really good against them late, so I think we're ready for them.
"These guys, they're never going to quit. These guys, they want to be part of that series. I'll bet on my team."
After Cleveland rookie starter Danny Salazar retired the first six Rays in order, needing only 20 pitches, they took the lead when Young launched the first pitch of the third into the leftfield seats.
Young has taken over as the Rays' primary DH and had shown the ability to produce in these situations. He played in the past four postseasons with the Twins and Tigers, hitting eight homers, most in the majors, over the previous two.
"It's fun playing in the playoffs on world TV where everyone watches," Young said.
The Rays expanded the lead to 3-0 in the fourth on a double by Jennings, after singles by James Loney and Evan Longoria.
Cobb made sure it was enough. The Indians threatened in the fourth, loading the bases on two hits — the second a grounder that second baseman Zobrist smothered to save a run — and a walk. But Cobb got a ground ball from Asdrubal Cabrera and Loney started a smooth 3-6-1 double play to get them out of it.
Cobb escaped again in the fifth after starting the inning by allowing a double and a single. He struck out Michael Bourn, then got a ground ball from Nick Swisher, which Loney gloved and tagged first. Then, forgetting Longoria had shifted away from third, Loney decided not to throw to second for a double play but home, though Yan Gomes retreated safely to third. But Cobb rallied, getting Jason Kipnis on a weak comebacker.
"He got in trouble a couple times but made that pitch," Molina said.
Cobb said the motivation is simple: "This team," he said, "nobody wants to go home."
Well then, on to Boston.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.