CLEVELAND — The magic deserted the Indians when they needed it most.
A perceived team of destiny after finishing the regular season with 10 straight wins to clinch the top spot in the American League wild-race, Cleveland tasted defeat for the first time in two weeks Wednesday.
And it was the type of loss that ends a season.
Failing to capitalize on the handful of scoring opportunities they had throughout the night, the Indians were blanked 4-0 by Tampa Bay, which won a one-game wild-card playoff at Progressive Field to earn the right to face Boston in the Division Series.
The expected pitching duel between up-and-coming right-handers Danny Salazar of Cleveland and Alex Cobb of Tampa Bay never transpired.
Cobb held up his end of the bargain, shutting the Indians out on eight hits over 6⅔ innings. But Salazar, a fireballing phenom with 10 career big-league starts on his resume, wasn’t up to the task, allowing three runs on four hits and failing to last five innings.
After breezing through the first two innings — he struck out three of the first four hitters — Salazar made his first mistake when he served up a solo home run to Delmon Young on his first pitch of the third inning.
The Rays stayed after Salazar in the fifth, scoring twice on a two-out double from Desmond Jennings, who shot a hard grounder down the third-base line to put Tampa Bay up 3-0.
That was all Cobb needed.
He didn’t dominate Cleveland hitters, but Cobb made the pitches when he had to, with the Indians failing to produce a timely hit all night.
Cleveland threatened against Cobb in the fourth and fifth and scored nothing.
Asdrubal Cabrera grounded into an inning-ending double play with the bases full in the fourth, then Cleveland put runners on first and third with nobody out in the fifth, only to have Michael Bourn strike out looking silly, Nick Swisher ground sharply to first and Jason Kipnis ground back to the mound on a 3-1 pitch.
Cleveland got nothing from some of its biggest offensive weapons with Bourn, Swisher, Kipnis and Cabrera combining to go 0-for-16.
The bottom of the Indians’ batting order — Yan Gomes and Lonnie Chisenhall — produced most of Cleveland’s offense, combining for five of their team’s nine hits.
Swisher’s postseason futility continued, with the first baseman going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He entered the night batting just .169 with four homers and eight RBIs in 46 playoff games.
Though it had a disappointing end, this season will undoubtedly go down as a success for the Indians, who matched the franchise record for improvement from season-to-season. Cleveland lost 94 games last year but bounced back to win 92 this season and qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2007.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at (440) 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @CAwesomeheimer.