CLEVELAND — Bolt your doors, pull your shades, hide your children.
The road warrior Rays are coming to town.
Tampa Bay was due to roll into Fenway Park with bellies full of champagne and beer quaffed in the visitors’ clubhouse after Wednesday night’s seldom-in-doubt 4-0 AL wild card victory over Terry Francona’s Indians.
The Rays are on their own traveling roadshow that keeps getting merrier and merrier the longer it runs. From must wins in Toronto in Games 161 and 162, they flew to Texas to win that tie-breaker on Monday, then here to put down the Indians.
After winning just seven times in 19 tries against the Red Sox this season — they did win four of seven after the break — the Rays do not mind at all heading into hostile territory.
The odds have been against them for nearly a month. The odds mean nothing to them.
“This team — nobody wants to go home,” said Rays starter and Boston native Alex Cobb, who skirted danger throughout 6 2/3 scoreless innings Wednesday in yet another dominant outing by a Rays starter.
Indians manager Terry Francona started rookie Danny Salazar, who had 10 major-league games of experience. Salazar’s early heat matched the passion of the home fans.
Salazar struck out Wil Myers on a 98-mph fastball for the second out of the game. He ended the first inning by firing a 100-mph pitch past James Loney.
When Salazar’s heater went down a tick, though, the Rays were ready. Delmon Young smashed the first pitch of the third inning — a 95-mph fastball — well over the left-field wall to give Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead.
In the next inning, Desmond Jennings pulled a 97-mph pitch inside the third-base line for a two-out, two-run double to make it 3-0.
That was more than enough support for Cobb and the Tampa Bay bullpen.
“We’ve battled through some big-time, extreme ups and downs,” Cobb said. “Getting down to this latter part of the season in September, beginning in September we struggled pretty hard. We felt it in the locker room. We were not happy with ourselves. We knew we had ourselves in good position to get into the postseason, and we were watching that slip away. Later on, something clicked. We got hot.
“We’re bringing that into the postseason right now. We’ve been facing elimination games. Our back’s been against the wall since Game 161. We wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s making us bear down and enjoy the pressure.”
The Rays have deep pitching, with a bullpen that is also deep up to but not including mercurial closer Fernando Rodney, who was lights-out Wednesday night with his 1-2-3 ninth. For starters, they will throw Matt Moore and David Price in Games 1 and 2, then probably go with Cobb and Chris Archer in the next two at Tropicana Field.
But the Red Sox can go toe-to-toe in the pitching department.
“They really pitched well against us,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said of this year’s Sox-Rays meetings. “We just did not swing the bats well, and that speaks to their pitching. They have a really good pitching staff — they have a great starting staff, they have a tremendous bullpen. I do anticipate a lot of the same in the playoffs as we continue.
“We feel very confident about our pitchers pitching against anybody, and we’ve done well. Part of that is we talked about that prior to the fact that our guys are used to pitching or playing in that venue, whether it’s Yankee Stadium packed, Fenway Park packed. We kind of dig it.”
Maddon is a pro’s pro when it comes to X’s and O’s and motivating his players. The way the Rays performed in hostile situation after hostile situation speaks to how well Maddon prepares them.
“I’m so proud of our guys,” he said. “You had to be in the dugout to see. Our guys were fine from the very first pitch. There was nothing going on except focus and ‘let’s go’ and a lot of life, man.”
The Rays are very much alive, coming to a ballpark near you. They should be considered armed and extremely dangerous.
Material from Newsday was used in this report.