Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Road-weary Rays have tough task in Cleveland

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CLEVELAND -- Sporting sunglasses, a teal shirt and a backpack hanging from his shoulder, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon looked like a tourist as he arrived late for his news conference.

Maddon didn't have time to slip into his uniform and had a valid excuse. The Rays have been on the road.

In the past week, they've gone from Tampa to New York to Toronto to Texas to Cleveland, a journey covering 3,627 miles.

On Wednesday night, the Rays hope to book a trip to Boston.

Getting a complete game from starter David Price, Tampa Bay beat Texas 5-2 in a tiebreaker on Monday night, earning the Rays a wild-card spot for the third time in four years and a chance to face the Indians, making their first appearance in October since 2007.

Forced to win almost every day down the stretch as they went neck-and-neck-and-neck with the Indians and Rangers in a thrilling wild-card scramble in the final weeks of September, the Rays won in Toronto on Sunday before travelling deep in the heart of Texas and surviving a win-or-go-home scenario.

"I'll tell you what," said Maddon, whose team went 14-5 after Sept. 12. "We've already played this wild-card game a couple times. We did it in Toronto a couple days ago. We did it yesterday in Texas, and we're going to come here tomorrow and do it again. I don't know if there's a battle-tested component to that, if you get immune to whatever that pressure is and you go play."

Wednesday's winner will meet the Red Sox in Game 1 of the division series on Friday.

The Rays always believed they'd be in position to make a run at a first World Series title. And although they've racked up some frequent-flyer miles and lived out of their suitcases to keep their season alive, they're confident their season isn't about to end.

"When you get into this momentum kind of a thing on a daily basis and you're playing great competition and you're going from city to city to city and it's an adverse territory, all of this stuff is what you train for and you really dig and you love it," Maddon said. "You don't have time to get nervous or overthink, you've just got to get ready and go play -- and for our guys, they kind of like that moment right now."

Like the Rays, the Indians had to scrap their way into the post-season. Cleveland ended a topsy-turvy regular season under manager Terry Francona by ripping off 10 wins in a row, playing error-free ball during the stretch.

Now, when every mistake is magnified and there's no room for lapses, the Indians want to keep rolling and will start rookie Danny Salazar in their biggest game in six seasons.

"This team wasn't expected to do anything," said right fielder Nick Swisher, one of the team's high-profile free-agent signings. "Just to be where we are right now is awesome, man."

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 2, 2013 C5

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