Evan Longoria's low-ball hitting was vital for the Rays in the final week.
The Tampa Rays are headed to the postseason for the fourth time in the last six seasons after beating the Texas Rangers in the one-game tiebreaker.
It was a game won by the team that had the better combination of pitching, hitting and defense. Let’s go inside the box score to assess the biggest keys to the Rays’ victory.
How Price won
David Price had previously struggled against the Rangers, going 1-3 against them in the regular season and 0-3 in postseason play prior to Monday.
Price didn’t get many swings-and-misses: the four he got were his third-fewest in any start this season. But he won this game by keeping the ball out of spots in which it could get drilled.
Only 21 of his 118 pitches were over the middle-third of the plate width-wise, which on a percentage basis (18 percent) ranked third-lowest among his starts in 2013.
David Price in 2013
Price’s defense cooperated, turning 13 of the ground balls hit against him into outs and making a pair of catches on four line drives hit against him. That ran counter to Price’s last four starts, in which he allowed hits on 18 of the 22 liners hit against him.
Price’s win was similar to that which Joe Saunders got in the Wild Card Game against the Rangers last season. Saunders entered that game 3-7 in his career against the Rangers and 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA in six career starts at Rangers Ballpark, but beat Yu Darvish to send the Orioles into the ALDS.
It was the fifth complete-game win in a one-game tiebreaker, the first since Al Leiter of the 1999 Mets beat the Cincinnati Reds. That game also marked the last time a road team won one of these games. Visiting teams had lost the previous three.
Evan Longoria in September
Evan Longoria had a pretty lousy start to September.
But he sure made up for it in the final week.
Longoria capped his latest clutch run with three hits, including a home run on Monday.
All three hits came on pitches in the same area- the lower-half of the strike zone.
Longoria has been mashing that pitch all week, as you can see in the image atop this article. Ten of his 12 hits came on pitches to that location.
Longoria had been struggling against those pitches prior to his successful run.
He missed on nearly one-third of his swings against them in the first three weeks of September
The final week for Longoria was similar to his final week in 2011, when he posted a .500 on-base percentage and had seven RBIs in seven games (more on that below) to help the Rays reach the postseason.
Defensive Player of the Game: David Price
Price had a pickoff, caught a runner stealing on another pickoff, and made a nice defensive play on an Elvis Andrus bunt in the eighth inning. The pickoff of Andrus was his first straight pickoff of the season and the caught stealing versus Kinsler was his fourth of 2013.
Price has done a good job at holding baserunners. He’s allowed 11 steals, but has had 11 runners caught stealing or picked off.
Elias Sports Bureau Stats of the Night
Longoria’s seventh home run in his team’s regular-season finale breaks Stan Musial’s record for most home runs in regular-season finales.
Six of those seven home runs came in the last three seasons. He hit two, including the game-winner in the Rays’ win over the Yankees in the game that clinched a Wild Card berth, on the final day of the 2011 season.
He added three more home runs in a win over the Orioles in the 2012 regular-season finale. And then he homered in Monday’s win to help lead Tampa Bay into the postseason again.