By TIM WITHERS
CLEVELAND — They shut off the lights, cranked up the music and turned their clubhouse into a nightclub.
As Pitbull’s “Don’t Stop The Party” boomed off walls covered by plastic sheets, the Tampa Bay Rays sprayed each other with Silly String and emptied bottles of champagne as quickly as they could open them.
This road trip isn’t ending anytime soon.
“Nobody wants to go home,” pitcher Alex Cobb said.
Next stop: Boston.
Dodging trouble for nearly seven innings, Cobb and the Rays pitched their way to another must-have win on the road, beating the Cleveland Indians 4-0 Wednesday night in the AL wild-card game.
Cobb, who missed a chunk of the regular season after he was hit in the head by a line drive, quieted a thundering Cleveland crowd and ended the Indians’ unexpected season just one game into October.
Delmon Young homered in the third inning off rookie Danny Salazar as the Rays, playing in their third city over four days, advanced to face the AL East champion Red Sox in the best-of-five division series starting Friday.
“I felt like we’ve done it and been here before,” said Desmond Jennings, who hit a two-run double in the fourth to give the Rays a 3-0 lead. “The road we took to get here was pretty tough, going to New York, Toronto, playing a game in Texas.”
Cobb’s comeback in August from his frightening injury helped stabilize the Rays, who have spent the past two weeks winning crucial games to reach the postseason for the fourth time in six years. He pitched out of massive jams in the fourth and fifth, and allowed two runners to reach in the seventh before turning it over to Tampa Bay’s dependable bullpen.
“Maybe it was good that I got into some jams,” Cobb said. “It made me slow down and make the pitches that I needed to.”
Fernando Rodney worked a perfect ninth, striking out Lonnie Chisenhall to end it. Rodney dropped to one knee, pointed skyward and soon was mobbed by all the Rays, who may be homesick but aren’t complaining about being Boston-bound.
“I’ve got to wash some clothes or buy some socks or something,” first baseman James Loney said.
Unfazed by a raucous, red-clad, towel-waving crowd of 43,579 that roared like a jet engine inside Progressive Field, the Rays handled the Indians and will now face their division nemesis, the Red Sox, who went 12-7 against Tampa Bay this season.
David Price set the tone for the Rays’ postseason run by throwing a complete game to beat Texas in the wild-card tiebreaker Monday night, and Cobb picked up where his teammate left off. After he was pulled in the seventh, Cobb walked to the dugout where he was first greeted with a high-five from Price.
“The adrenaline was going pretty fast there in the early going,” Cobb said. “Once Delmon hit that home run, I tried to fill up the strike zone. My stuff wasn’t the best, but I made my defense work. They were awesome.”
Since Sunday, the Rays have won in Toronto, Texas and now Cleveland. Their next destination — Fenway Park — won’t be any more welcoming.
“It’s been a blur. I don’t know if that’s because of the concussion or it’s just been up and down all year,” Cobb said. “You know, I came out of camp not even knowing if I was going to be on the team.”
A few months later, he wasn’t even sure he would pitch again this season.
On June 15, Cobb suffered a concussion when he was struck in the right ear by a line drive hit by Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer. Cobb was sidelined for 50 games and Tuesday recalled lying on his sofa and wondering if he would be able to help the Rays again. In 2011, he missed the playoffs after undergoing surgery to remove a blood clot.
But not only did Cobb go 5-1 after his scary moment, the 25-year-old finished 11-3 in 22 starts and manager Joe Maddon didn’t hesitate giving him the ball for the winner-take-all wild-card game.
“They’re nerve-racking, but it’s going to be no different in Boston,” Evan Longoria said. “There’s a little comfort knowing we’re going to play a series, but at the same time we have to play every game like this one.”
The Indians went from 94 losses a year ago to 92 wins under first-year manager Terry Francona and won their last 10 games to make the postseason for the first time since 2007.
But it was one and done for Cleveland, which didn’t capitalize on scoring opportunities. The first three hitters, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis, went a combined 0 for 12.
“It hurts. We didn’t want to go home yet,” Francona said.
The road-tested Rays, who have traveled 3,627 miles since leaving home on Sept. 23, gave Cobb a three-run cushion on Jennings’ double.
Cobb was in trouble in the bottom of the inning as the Indians loaded the bases on a double, single and walk. But he got Asdrubal Cabrera to hit a grounder to Loney, who threw to second for a force and shortstop Yunel Escobar fired to Cobb covering first for the double play.
Cobb pumped both fists in celebration, knowing he had escaped danger.
The Indians threatened again in the fifth, putting two on with none out. But Cobb struck out Bourn, got Swisher to ground to first and retired All-Star Jason Kipnis on a soft-as-cotton comebacker.
“I think more than they did not come through,” Maddon said, “you’ve got to give him credit for making big pitches when he had to.”