CLEVELAND -- For the first time in six seasons, a sell-out crowd of red-clad and white-towel-waving Cleveland fans Wednesday night welcomed back postseason baseball in October in Northeast Ohio.
But it didn't take long for the fired-up masses to realize that while the 2013 version of the Indians had been a scrappy bunch to watch reel off 10 consecutive games down the stretch in the regular season, this group is far from the 2007 squad that found itself one win away from a World Series berth.
With just one win needed in Wednesday's American League wild-card game against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays to punch their ticket into the remainder of the postseason, the Indians fell flat and were shut out, 4-0, by the Rays.
The letdown began with a sub-par and short outing from rookie starter Danny Salazar. His strong start in the first two innings, which included flashing 100 mph fastballs, quickly disintegrated the second time through Tampa Bay's lineup.
After needing just 20 pitches combined to quickly mow through the first two, Salazar labored through the next two innings. He threw 39 pitches in the third and fourth innings, giving up three runs along the way before being pulled after four-plus innings of work.
"He's not a finished product," Indians manager Terry Francona said of Salazar on Tuesday "(But) the finished product is going to be special."
Rays designated hitter Delmon Young sent Salazar's first pitch of the third inning 414 feet into the left-field bleachers. The homer was Young's ninth over the past three postseasons (five of which have come on the first pitch) -- the most in the majors over that span.
After striking out fourth-inning leadoff man Wil Myers looking, Salazar gave up back-to-back singles to James Loney and Evan Longoria to get himself in a jam. He rebounded to get Ben Zobrist to fly out to right field, but the next batter, center fielder Desmond Jennings, hit a double down the third-base line that bounced around the left-field corner long enough to score two and push Tampa Bay's lead to 3-0.
Still, it wasn't just an off night by Salazar, 23, that cost the Tribe.
Shouldering even more of the blame is a lack of a clutch hitting, especially once the Indians' bullpen was called into service and held the Rays' offense to just one more run (an unearned run in the ninth) the rest of the game.
Despite the bottom of the lineup starting to get to Cobb during his second time through the lineup, the Indians' table-setters at the top of the order failed to produce in the clutch. The top three batters -- Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis -- went a combined 0-for-12. No. 7 hitter Asdrubal Cabrera added an 0-for-4, as well. The Indians had the bases loaded with one out in the fourth. They had runners on first and third with none out in the fifth. They even had two on and none out in the seventh. But with each opportunity to chase Cobb from the game, they came away empty-handed.
Whereas Salazar gave up three runs on just four hits in the loss, Cobb scattered eight hits over 6? but managed to keep the Tribe off the board to earn the win. In his two starts against the Indians this season, he did not allow a run in 14 innings.
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