The team that saved its best stretch of the season for the final week needed one more last-ditch charge Monday night to have the chance to keep playing in 2013.
The man with the bat in his hands with two outs in the ninth inning was the source of many of the Texas Rangers’ issues as they endured a season of ups and down at the plate, something that this franchise has rarely experienced.
There were other problems not related to Nelson Cruz, whose 50-game suspension robbed the lineup of power, but it was his responsibility to keep the line moving in his first game as a free baseball man.
Cruz grounded out, and Major League Baseball will conduct a postseason without the Rangers for the first time since 2009.
David Price allowed two runs in a gutty complete-game win, and Evan Longoria swatted a two-run homer in the third to lift Tampa Bay to a 5-2 victory in a tie-breaking game to determine the American League’s second wild-card team.
Within the loss were the pitfalls that bit the Rangers frequently this season. Two outs were made on the bases. Runners were left in scoring position. There weren’t enough hitters who could make a difference with one swing of the bat.
The Rangers were a team that won 91 games, their fourth straight 90-win season, but they left Rangers Ballpark with an empty feeling.
“We expected to get into the playoffs and go to the World Series — that was the ultimate goal,” third baseman Adrian Beltre said. “We came up short of it, and we didn’t get enough to get in.
“We got in a slump at a really bad time. Even though we end up winning seven straight besides tonight, it wasn’t good enough. Tampa played better than us, and we’re going home.”
The Rays advance to play Wednesday at Cleveland in the wild-card game. The Rangers, who had won seven in a row to force the first Game 163 in franchise history, will return to their ballpark Tuesday to pack their belongings and say their goodbyes — some, like Cruz, perhaps for the final time.
Cruz went 0 for 4 in his first game since Aug. 4, and rookie left-hander Martin Perez allowed three runs in 5 1/3 innings. Tampa Bay scored single runs against Alexi Ogando in the sixth and added a deflating unearned run in the ninth to give Price a three-run cushion to work with as he went for the complete game.
Beltre sent a drive to the left-field wall, A.J. Pierzynski grounded weakly to second base and Cruz grounded out shortstop-to-first base to send the Rays pouring out of their dugout for an on-field celebration.
“There’s no excuses,” Beltre said. “We still had a good enough team to make it. We just didn’t play well enough.”
The first four Rays hitters collected hits against Perez, who caught a break when leadoff man Desmond Jennings was out trying to stretch a single into a double despite playing with a sore left hamstring.
Delmon Young drove in the game’s first run with a sacrifice fly, but Perez did well to hold Tampa Bay to just that run.
He worked a perfect second inning but walked Jennings to start the third. Perez got the next two batters, but Longoria sent the first pitch he saw into the Rangers’ dugout for a 3-0 lead.
Price, meanwhile, pitched around a one-out walk in the first by picking off Elvis Andrus and left Beltre at second after he started the second with a double.
Craig Gentry reached on a single to left to start the third and scored two batters later on a looping liner by Ian Kinsler to make it 3-1. Kinsler, though, was picked off to end the inning.
Perez had retired eight straight since the Longoria homer when Alexi Ogando was summoned in the sixth to face Longoria with one out and the bases empty. But Longoria doubled, and he scored two batters later on a pinch double by David DeJesus for a 4-1 edge.
The Rangers countered in their half as Andrus singled with one out and stole second before Alex Rios followed with an RBI double off the left-field wall. Price, though, got Beltre and Pierzynski to keep it a 4-2 game.
The Rays added an insurance run in the ninth as Sam Fuld took off for third as Tanner Scheppers peered in for his sign and scored as Scheppers’ throw sailed wide and into foul territory.
Price breezed through the ninth, and the Rangers were blown into the off-season.
“I’m disappointed because we certainly expected to keep moving on,” said manager Ron Washington, who will return in 2014. “We didn’t get it done. We made a run at the end, but we just didn’t get it done. I’ve got no excuse for that.”