CLEVELAND — The Tampa Bay Rays morphed into road warriors on their way to the American League Division Series.
To reach the postseason, the Rays needed to win their regular-season finale against the Blue Jays in Toronto on Sunday, then earn a victory over the Rangers in a one-game tiebreaker at Texas on Monday just to get into Wednesday’s American League wild-card game.
Tampa Bay completed the 3-for-3 run in must-win games with a 4-0 win over the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.
“That’s three different venues, three difficult venues,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon, whose team will play Game 1 of the ALDS on Friday in Boston. “All in enemy territory. As a manager, to stand there and see your guys react like that, you’ve got to be proud.”
Alex Cobb pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings, and Desmond Jennings belted a two-run double to lead the Rays past the Indians, who entered the night on a 10-game winning streak.
Cobb limited the Indians to eight hits and one walk. He struck out five. In two starts against Cleveland this year, counting Wednesday, the 25-year-old right-hander went 2-0 and threw a combined 14 scoreless innings.
“This team doesn’t want to go home,” Cobb said. “We’ve battled through a lot of ups and downs.”
Cobb was at his best in the middle innings, when the Indians had two golden opportunities to score.
In the fourth, Cleveland loaded the bases loaded with one out, but Cobb got Asdrubal Cabrera to ground into an inning-ending, 3-6-1 double play.
“Maybe it was a good thing I got in some jams because it made me slow down,” Cobb said.
In the fifth, the Indians had runners at first and third with no outs but again came up empty. Cobb struck out Michael Bourn, then induced groundouts from Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis.
Both teams finished 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
“He took the sting out of our bats by changing speeds. He didn’t pitch like a young pitcher,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said of Cobb.
Indians rookie right-hander Danny Salazar lasted only four innings, as the Rays reached him for one run in the third inning (on Delmon Young’s homer) and two more in the fourth (on Jennings’ double).
Salazar, facing Tampa Bay for the first time, retired the first six batters, striking out three. In the first two innings, he threw 20 pitches, 16 of them strikes.
Salazar’s 21st pitch resulted in a 1-0 Tampa Bay lead. Young led off the third inning with a home run over the left field wall.
The Rays added two runs in the fourth. With one out, James Loney singled and went to second on a single by Evan Longoria. After Ben Zobrist flied out, Jennings ripped a double into the left field corner, scoring both runners to give the Rays a 3-0 lead.
Salazar gave up four hits and two walks while striking out four.
The Indians’ last chance to score came in the seventh inning when they had runners at first and second with one out. Cobb retired Bourn on a flyout, and reliever Joel Peralta came in to strike out Swisher and end the inning. In his career against Peralta, Swisher is 2-for-19 with eight strikeouts.
Tampa Bay added an unearned run in the ninth inning on an RBI single by Yunel Escobar.
Rays closer Fernando Rodney struck out two of the three batters he faced in the ninth in a non-save situation.
Lonnie Chisenhall went 3-for-4 for Cleveland. He also committed a ninth-inning error that led to a run. Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes added two hits apiece for the Indians.
“They outplayed us,” Francona said. “It hurts. We didn’t want to go home yet.”
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said, “This is one of the best group of guys I’ve ever played with. We’ll go into next year a little more determined. This was no fluke.”
Jennings collected two of Tampa Bay’s eight hits.
NOTES: Salazar, 23, was the youngest pitcher to start a postseason game for the Indians since LHP CC Sabathia, then 21, started Game 3 of the 2001 AL Division Series against the Seattle Mariners. … Andre Thornton, a four-time All-Star first baseman and designated hitter for the Indians in the 1970s and ’80s, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Jim Thome, the Indians’ all-time leader in home runs, also was in attendance. … Longoria has 19 career postseason hits, 13 of them for extra bases. … Zobrist went 1-for-4, extending his postseason hitting streak to eight games, the second longest in club history behind a nine-game streak by B.J. Upton.