CLEVELAND — The Rays have until 10 a.m. today to set their roster for tonight’s AL wild-card game, and they probably will use every second to decide on the 25 players who will be active to face the Indians.
The roster likely will include only two starting pitchers — RHP Alex Cobb, who faces the Indians, and another starter in case the game drags into extra innings.
That means the Rays can get creative with those other three spots. They can bolster the bullpen to guard against a short outing by Cobb or use it to give them late-inning options off the bench.
That means OF Freddy Guzman, who appeared in one game as a pinch runner, could make the squad to give the Rays a base-stealing threat. The Rays also can include OF Kevin Kiermaier, who was called up Monday and made his major-league debut in the bottom of the ninth inning when he replaced Sam Fuld in center field.
It’s hard to imagine DH Luke Scott, who has had just 16 at-bats since returning from the disabled list Sept. 10, will be needed tonight.
The Rays can change the roster for the AL Division Series should they advance.
Who loves the second wild card?
Manager Joe Maddon, that’s who.
The Rays’ season would have ended Sunday had the playoffs not been extended in 2012 to create a second wild-card spot and thus the wild-card game. The Indians overtook the Rays in the wild-card standings during the final weekend.
But the second spot created the need for Monday’s tiebreaker against the Rangers and enabled the Rays to reach the postseason for the fourth time since 2008.
“Now you love the idea of the second wild card,” Maddon said. “To get back to this moment is outstanding.”
The new playoff format coupled with Monday’s game give the Rays the opportunity to be the first team to win two elimination games before reaching the ALDS.
“We’ve already played this wild-card game a couple of times,” Maddon said. “We’re going to come here (tonight) and do it again. I don’t know if there’s a battle-tested component to it. You get immune to whatever that pressure is and you just go play. I really thought we were going to play relaxed (Monday) after that game in Toronto. I would have been really surprised if we did not play relaxed.”
World Series or bust
The goal in 2008 was to reach the World Series. The Rays did and lost in five games to the Phillies.
“So we changed it,” Maddon said.
Now the goal is to not only reach the World Series but also to win it.
“It would be very disappointing,” Maddon said when asked about falling short of that goal. “This is a special group we have right now, and we’re getting hopefully hot at the right moment. It would be highly disappointing, absolutely it would be. End of the world? No, but it would be disappointing.”
Yunel Escobar led all major-league shortstops with a .988 fielding percentage. Ben Zobrist finished with the top fielding percentage among AL second basemen, edging Boston’s Dustin Pedroia .9928 to .9927.
Zobrist and Escobar combined to make only 11 errors.
‘Homeland’ can wait
Count Lightning coach Jon Cooper as one of those glued to Monday’s broadcast of the Rays-Rangers tiebreaker game.
“When you get to know the guys a little bit, and I was able to meet Joe (Maddon) and I met Evan (Longoria) at an event, it’s pretty cool,” Cooper said Tuesday. “I found myself (Monday) night, I got excited when ‘Homeland’ was going to come on because I had it taped, and I said I can’t do that, I have to watch the Rays. I couldn’t get through ‘Homeland.’ But I was excited, it was good.”
RF Wil Myers, RHP Chris Archer and Detroit SS Jose Iglesias are finalists for the Players Choice AL outstanding rookie award. ... LHP David Price is the fifth pitcher to throw a complete game in a one-game tiebreaker. ... Monday’s game against the Rangers drew a 15.6 rating in the Tampa Bay market, outdrawing the Dolphins-Saints football game. ... With seven walks Monday, the Rays finished the season with a major-league-leading 589. Since 2007, the Rays have drawn a major-league-high 4,216 walks. ... Tuesday was the Rays’ first off day since Sept. 9. ... Tonight will be the fourth time this season the Rays have flown to a city for one game — July 29 at Boston (win), Aug. 26 at Kansas City (loss), Monday at Texas (win). ... Kiermaier became the first player to make his major-league debut in a one-game tiebreaker.
Roger Mooney, Erik Erlendsson