While the Tampa Bay Rays never did run down the New York Yankees in the American League East, they did shave 12 games off what once was a 15 1/2-game deficit with a road win on Sept. 9.
That perseverance paid dividends on Friday when the Rays defeated the Houston Astros 7-3 to earn their fourthconsecutive postseason berth.
Game 2 in the three-game series will be Saturday night at Houston.
Tampa Bay (86-71) is still vying for home-field advantage in the wild-card round, but in the interim, the Rays will relish overcoming a spate of early injuries to make their way back to the playoffs.
"We did go through some blows early on," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Feels like we've gotten a little healthier as of late, which is a good thing, but to continue to win in the American League East is quite a challenge and a testament to the guys."
Left-hander Shane McClanahan (12-7, 2.51 ERA) has the starting assignment for the Rays on Saturday. He allowed three home runs and posted only two strikeouts in his most recent start, against the Toronto Blue Jays last Sunday, surrendering four runs on six hits and two walks over five innings in a 7-1 loss.
McClanahan has allowed nine earned runs over his past two starts. McClanahan is 2-4 with a 4.26 ERA in nine starts since the All-Star break.
He will make his second career start against the Astros. At home on Sept. 20, McClanahan allowed five runs on five hits and four walks with three strikeouts over four innings in a 5-0 Rays loss that saw him depart in the fifth inning with neck tightness.
Right-hander Cristian Javier (10-9, 2.65) is the scheduled starter for the Astros on Saturday. He allowed one hit and recorded eight strikeouts over six scoreless innings in his most recent start, against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday, but he didn't factor into the decision in the Astros' 6-3 win in 11 innings.
It marked his third consecutive scoreless start, and Javier is 2-0 with 22 strikeouts over 17 innings during that span.
Javier is 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA in two career starts against the Rays. He limited Tampa Bay to one hit and four walks with six strikeouts over five scoreless innings in a 5-0 victory on Sept. 20.
Even in defeat, the Astros (102-55) secured home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs when the Yankees fell at home to the Orioles 2-1 on Friday. The Yankees had won nine of their previous 10 games to keep moderate pressure for the top seed on the Astros.
"That's what we were hoping for, that's what we were playing for," Astros manager Dusty Baker said of clinching the best record in the AL. "We didn't know that we were going to get it like this, but you take it any way that you can get it. I hope it comes out to our advantage by having that best record and by hosting most of the games at home."
--Field Level Media