CLEVELAND — — Small strips of plastic hung from the ceiling of the Tampa Bay clubhouse, which had been stripped of furniture and prepped over the past few innings for what was supposed to be a wild, wet celebration.
The Guardians had other plans.
“We don’t want people celebrating at our house, do we?” Cleveland starter Cal Quantrill said.
Cleveland rookies Oscar Gonzalez and Steven Kwan made runs in the eighth inning as the Guardians kept the Rays from securing one of the AL’s three wildcard spots, rallying for a 2-1 win on Thursday night .
The central champion guards have won two of three games in a tight series – and potentially a preview of the playoffs. Two games went to extra innings and all three were decided by one run.
After Baltimore lost to Boston earlier, the Rays took the field needing a win to make the playoffs for the fourth straight year. But they couldn’t hold off a Cleveland team that fought back all season.
“It was kind of our mo all year,” Quantrill said. “You can’t put us aside. I don’t think we’re a very fun team to play against.”
Coolers filled with beer and champagne were carried in and out of the Tampa clubhouse as the Rays packed up their gear and headed to Houston one more win away from qualifying for the playoffs.
“There’s disappointment every time we lose,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said, not wanting to put more emphasis on a game that got away late. “The disappointment is that we were in the eighth round and we lost.”
Tampa Bay had a chance in the ninth inning, charging on three walks by reliever Trevor Stephan. But he took out Ji-Man Choi on strikes and then blasted Isaac Paredes to the short right to earn his third save.
“They’re a really good team,” said Quantrill, who went undefeated at Progressive Field in 33 starts. “I know a few guys in this team. I like this team. But we don’t want them celebrating here.
“They can go celebrate wherever they go next. It’s not about proving we can beat them. It comes down to proving that we can continue to play the game the way we want.
The Guardians have 37 wins from behind and they extended their team record to 29 wins in their batting final. Enyel De Los Santos (1-0) threw a perfect eighth as Cleveland improved to 20-4 since Sept. 4.
Shut out for seven innings, the Guardians got a single from rookie Will Brennan’s Shawn Armstrong (2-3) to start the eighth. Myles Straw then sacrificed himself and Kwan doubled to tie 1-all.
The Rays walked the dangerous José Ramírez with two outs to face Gonzalez, who hit a slow roll down the right side just out of Choi’s reach early on as Brennan scored.
“I felt bad for the military,” Cash said. “He kicked the ball so well and Gonzalez swung on a pitch that almost hit him and just found that perfect spot.”
Cleveland’s return kept Quantrill’s perfect home mark intact. The right-hander allowed just one run and three hits over six innings, but looked set to suffer a tough loss before his teammates rallied.
TAKE THIS WAY
Ramírez has been intentionally walked for the lead in MLB 20 times (Yankees hitter Aaron Judge is second with 18) this season, the most by a Cleveland hitter since the stat was officially tracked in 1955.
LOVE AT HOME
While the Tampa Bay-St. The Petersburg area was spared Hurricane Ian, the slow-moving storm caused massive flooding and damage across Florida.
“St. Pete and the Bay Area have done well, but our friends, family and colleagues in Port Charlotte and Fort Myers not so much,” Cash said. “So I want to send well wishes to them so we think to them and know that it’s a pretty trying time.”
Cleveland now has two Naylors.
The Guardians brought in catcher Bo Naylor, the younger brother of first baseman Josh, to their taxi team. He can practice with the team before games, sit on the bench during games and attend bullpen sessions.
The 22-year-old, who split the season between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus, said his brother was thrilled to have him with him.
“Everything I say to him, he’s over the moon,” Naylor said. “He’s a really supportive brother and with everything that’s going on, he’s always behind me 100%. It’s really good to be able to be with him here and to be able to share this experience with him.
Goalkeepers: RHP Zach Plesac (broken hand) will make his first tenure since August 27 on Saturday. He was originally scheduled to pitch Friday, but the team made the switch so Aaron Civale would be lined up to pitch Game 1 of the AL Division Series if Cleveland advances.
Rays: Start a three-game series against AL champion West Houston with Drew Rasmussen (10-7, 2.85 ERA) against LHP Framber Valdez (16-5, 2.69).
Goalies: Civale (3-6, 5.19) starts the first game of a six-game series against Kansas City to end the regular season. The Royals will counter with RHP Brady Singer (10-4, 2.99).