ARLINGTON, Texas — The first person David Price looked for after pitching the Tampa Bay Rays into the playoffs was third baseman Evan Longoria.
Price yelled after the two locked eyes, and they embraced to start the celebration.
“He just told me that he had a dream about it,” Longoria said. “It was awesome to feel that emotion from him. That’s what an ace does, that’s what a leader of a staff does. It was awesome to watch.”
Price, Longoria and the Tampa Bay Rays are going to playoffs again, getting there with a victory in their final regular-season game for the second time in three years. They needed an extra game this time.
Price pitched his fourth complete game this year, Longoria hit a two-run homer and the Rays beat the Texas Rangers 5-2 in the AL wild-card tiebreaker game Monday night, the 163rd game for both teams.
When Price woke up Monday, all he could think about was throwing a complete game, then getting that last out and turning straight to Longoria.
“You’re probably supposed to go to your catcher first, but for what he’s done for us and what he’s done for me personally,” Price said. “I think about that type of stuff before I pitch all the time, but for it to happen today. I didn’t want to text him when I thought about it. I didn’t want to jinx it.”
Luckily for manager Joe Maddon and the Rays, they weren’t done in by another blown call in Texas — though this one did cost them at least one run.
The Rays face another must-win situation Wednesday night at Cleveland in the AL wild-card game, Tampa’s third game in three cities in a four-day stretch. The winner faces Boston in the division series.
Price (10-8), the reigning AL Cy Young winner, had a 10.26 ERA in four previous starts at Rangers Ballpark. He was superb in this one, striking out four and walking one. He picked off two runners while allowing seven hits and throwing 81 of 118 pitches for strikes.
“If I don’t get those two outs on the pickoff moves, I have to get the next guys out,” Price said. “It forces me to throw at least 10 more pitches.”
Longoria had three hits, continuing his stellar play in the last game of regular seasons. He is hitting .579 (11 for 19) in those finales with seven homers and 10 RBIs, according to STATS.
“I wish I could explain it,” he said. “I wish I could bottle it up and take it through 161 games and not have it be on the last day.”
Texas had won seven in a row, needing every one just to force the majors’ first wild-card tiebreaker since 2007.
Even with the return of All-Star slugger Nelson Cruz from his 50-game drug suspension, the Rangers missed a chance to get to the playoffs for the fourth year in a row.
“I’m disappointed. We didn’t get it done,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “I’ve got no excuse for that.”
Cruz, who had 27 homers and 76 RBIs in 108 games before his suspension, was 0 for 4 with a strikeout while hitting sixth as the designated hitter. His groundout to shortstop ended the game.
The Rays had runners at first and second with two outs in the seventh when Delmon Young, who put the Rays ahead to stay with a sacrifice fly in the first, hit a soft flyball.
Center fielder Leonys Martin made a running, diving attempt for a catch. Replays showed clearly that the ball bounced into Martin’s glove; left field umpire Bruce Dreckman, looking at the play from the side, ruled it an inning-ending catch.
Young rounded first base with his arms spread out signaling safe. Maddon went out to talk to Kulpa, though the conversation didn’t appear heated.
“Thankfully, it didn’t come back to bite us,” Longoria said.
When the Rays played at Texas on April 8, their 5-4 loss ended when plate umpire Marty Foster called a third strike against Ben Zobrist on a pitch low and outside. The ump later admitted the 2-2 curveball wasn’t a strike and he wouldn’t call that pitch a strike if he could do it again. The Texas win and closer Joe Nathan’s 300th career save stood.
Maddon said after that game that such calls “can’t be made in a Major League Baseball game.” The Rays still had a runner on base and Longoria on deck when Zobrist was called out.
MLB intends to use expanded video review next year.
The Rangers had beaten Tampa Bay in the AL division series in 2010 and 2011 on way to their only two World Series. It was the second year in a row their season ended in a do-or-die game at home — they lost to Baltimore in the first AL wild-card game last October.
“I’m happy that we don’t have to play them anymore,” Longoria said. ” It’s fitting we had to go down this road. It feels really good to be able to leave here celebrating instead of with our heads down.”
In 2011, the Rays had to overcome a nine-game deficit the final month of the season and were down seven runs in their 162nd game. They got to the playoffs after Longoria’s game-ending homer in the 12th inning to beat the New York Yankees.
The first four hitters in the game against rookie left-hander Martin Perez (10-6) combined for three singles and a walk, and yet the Rays still didn’t have a run.
Desmond Jennings, in his first start in more than a week after left hamstring tightness, hit the game’s first pitch down the left-field line. He was thrown out trying to stretch the hit to a double when Craig Gentry made a strong throw.
Will Myers walked on four pitches. consecutive singles by Ben Zobrist and Longoria loaded the bases and Young hit a sacrifice fly.
Jennings had a leadoff walk in the third, and there were two outs before Longoria hit a drive to right-center that landed in the Rangers bullpen.
After Martin struck out Zobrist to start the sixth, the eighth consecutive batter he retired, Alexi Ogando gave up a double to Longoria, who scored on a double by pinch-hitter David DeJesus.
Elvis Andrus walked on four pitches in the first, but was picked off by Price. Ian Kinsler had an RBI single in the third, but was caught stealing after straying off the base and drawing a throw.
“That’s the way we play. Sometimes that’s the result of it,” Washington said. “If everything would have worked the way we wanted it to work when they decided to steal it would have been nice. … They made the plays to stop it.”
NOTES: Tampa added a run in the ninth when Sam Fuld was at second base, when he took off for third base. Reliever Tanner Scheppers threw wildly to third base, allowing Fuld to score. … Andrus had a stolen base in the sixth, giving the Rangers a steal in a club-record 13 games in a row.