Rangers' Nelson Cruz back for AL wild-card tiebreaker
Slugger returns from suspension to face Rays ace
After 162 regular-season games, the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers need more to decide the second American League wild-card spot.
While the visiting Rays have the benefit of turning to reigning Cy Young Award winner David Price in their biggest game of the year, the Rangers are set to welcome back all-star Nelson Cruz on Monday (8:07 p.m. ET).
The Rays (91-71) held on for a 7-6 win over Toronto and the Rangers (91-71) beat the Los Angeles Angels 6-2 on Sunday, forcing a one-game showdown for the right to face Cleveland - which overtook both teams and clinched its playoff spot with a season-ending 10-game win streak - in the wild-card game Wednesday.
Texas figures to be more formidable with Cruz back in action. The two-time all-star and 2011 ALCS MVP completed his 50-game suspension for his role in Major League Baseball's Biogenesis investigation and will be activated for this game.
Cruz went 9-for-27 in eight games while playing in the instructional league in Arizona with a homer, five doubles and nine runs batted in. He batted .269 with 27 homers and 76 RBIs in 108 games prior to his ban.
"I'll have a chance [Monday] to be with me teammates and do the thing I love the most, play baseball," he said. "The guys are excited. I'm excited."
This is a moment that I want to be in. I want to be able to relish this moment and go out there and have fun.- Rays ace pitcher David Price
Cruz is 9-for-21 with three homers lifetime off Price, including playoffs, and outfielder Alex Rios is 10-for-23 with five extra-base hits.
Price (9-8, 3.39 earned-run average) is 1-7 with a 5.57 ERA in 11 starts against Texas, including the post-season. He will face a Rangers team that won seven straight by a 46-19 margin to keep its playoff hopes alive.
"Hands down my biggest game of this year, night and day bigger than opening day," said Price, who struck out eight over seven innings of two-run ball in Wednesday's 8-3 win at Yankee Stadium. "This is a moment that I want to be in. I want to be able to relish this moment and go out there and have fun."
Texas, which took four of seven from the Rays, beat them in the division series in 2010 and 2011.
"We have something to prove in Texas," said Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, hitting .360 with two homers and nine RBIs in his last six games. "We've left that place too many times with our heads down and disappointed. I feel like now is the time to be able to turn that page."
While Price has struggled against the Rangers, the Rays are confident in their ace. He is 6-2 with a 2.71 ERA in 10 road starts since July 2.
I just need to relax and take it as another game.- Rangers starting pitcher Martin Perez
"You can't not feel good about it," Longoria said of giving the ball to Price. "He's the guy that I think everybody in this room looks to when we need somebody to go out and give us a great performance."
Texas counters with rookie Martin Perez (10-5, 3.55), who is eager to prove himself with the season on the line.
"I'm excited, but I don't want to put any pressure on myself or get nervous," he told MLB's official website. "I just need to relax and take it as another game."
Perez surrendered three runs and struck out a career high-tying eight over seven innings to beat Houston 7-3 on Wednesday, improving to 1-2 with a 4.13 ERA in his last four starts.
The left-hander allowed two solo homers in five-plus innings of relief in a 6-0 loss at Tampa Bay on Sept. 9, 2012, his only appearance versus the Rays.
"You can't say enough. Just the fight, the character of this team," said outfielder Craig Gentry, who is 17-for-36 (.472) with eight runs and 10 stolen bases in his last 10 games. "From being about as low as we could possibly be and almost everybody probably counting us out, and to come home and play the way we have."