That wasn't so hard now, was it? • The Rays — finally — made it to the playoffs, beating the Rangers 5-2 on Monday in a tiebreaking game that sent them officially into the postseason and set off a wet and wild clubhouse celebration. • The Rays head now to Cleveland for another win-or-go-home affair in Wednesday's American League wild-card game, confident that now that they are in the playoffs, they can stick around for a long time. • "I don't think anybody wants to play us," David Price said. "I think we're extremely dangerous." • The Rays advanced primarily because their two biggest stars stepped up when they needed it most, Price redeeming himself for past failures against the Rangers with an impressive complete game and Evan Longoria continuing his clutch final-day performances with three hits, including a two-run home run.
"You like to believe that, you want to believe that," manager Joe Maddon said, his glasses dotted with remnants of champagne spray. "That's who they are, and that's pretty much what happened (Monday)."
"Obviously, we are where we are because of those two guys," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "For them to play such a prominent role in us advancing shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. We want those two guys in big moments and they came through."
The Rays stayed over in Fort Worth with plans to head this morning to Cleveland, where they will face an Indians team that has made a surprising run in their first year under former Red Sox manager Terry Francona. Alex Cobb is expected to start Wednesday against Danny Salazar. The Rays went 4-2 against the Indians this season.
But Monday was about celebrating after a season of great promise that looked several times, as recently as Saturday, to be headed toward a disappointing finish.
"There's a high level of gratification and satisfaction based on what we just did," Maddon said. "We had our moments, we've had several mulligans, and we're still able to come out with our 92nd win of the season, and you go to Cleveland against a really good ballclub. …
"I like the fact, the notion, that we've pretty much been playing this game for about a week now. This game is just a carryover of the last week."
Price's previous struggles against the Rangers — 1-7, 5.57 in 11 regular- and postseason starts — had been well-documented and oft-discussed. But he proved those irrelevant with a masterful performance on Monday.
He allowed only two runs on seven hits, looking in control most of the night, throwing 118 pitches in his fourth complete game of the season. And he helped himself — after a pregame tip from bench coach Dave Martinez — by picking off two Texas runners, and also in fielding a bunt. Pric punctuated his performance by yelling "That's what I'm talking about" after getting the final out.
"That's what an ace does," Longoria said. "That's what a leader of the staff does. And it was awesome to watch."
Longoria, who spoke openly on Sunday of the unfinished business the Rays had with the Rangers, who ousted them from their past two playoffs, certainly did his part. He singled as part of their first-inning one-run rally, hit the two-run homer in the third and doubled and scored on David DeJesus's double.
"For whatever reason I just felt like I wasn't done playing baseball this year," Longoria said. "I couldn't imagine going home today and not playing baseball."
No wonder. In five final games of regular seasons, Longoria is hitting .579 with seven homers and 11 RBIs.
The Rays led 4-2 after sixth, missing out on a chance to tack on a run when leftfield umpire Bruce Dreckman — part of a six-man crew — incorrectly ruled that Texas centerfielder Leonys Martin caught Delmon Young's liner when replays showed it bounced. But they got an extra run in the ninth primarily due to Sam Fuld's huslte in stealing third, and Price finished it from there.
In a way, everything the Rays have done to this point is just a prelude. The playoffs start for real Wednesday, and if they beat the Indians the Red Sox are waiting. But Monday meant something as well, as they popped corks on 200 bottles of Korbel champagne and six of Dom Perignon, poured 20 cases of beer and lit cigars.
"The goal is to celebrate four more times," Friedman said, "but in this moment we're going to savor this before we get on the plane to Cleveland."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.
David Price's complete games
Date Opp. H R ER BB K Res.
Monday Rangers 7 2 2 1 4 5-2 W
July 24, 2013 Red Sox 5 1 1 0 4 5-1 W
July 12, 2013 Astros 8 2 2 0 3 2-1 L
July 7, 2013 White Sox 8 1 1 0 5 3-1 W
Sept. 25, 2012 Red Sox 7 2 2 0 13 5-2 W
April 24, 2012 Angels 5 0 0 1 6 5-0 W
April 25, 2010 Blue Jays 4 0 0 1 9 6-0 W