The Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers are pushing this regular season to game No. 163.
On a Sunday punctuated by Miami’s Henderson Alvarez pitching a no-hitter, Tampa Bay and Texas both won and wound up even, forcing a tiebreaker for the second AL wild-card spot.
The Rays will play at Texas on Monday night, with the winner visiting Cleveland on Wednesday night in another all-or-nothing matchup.
Rangers rookie Martin Perez starts against reigning AL Cy Young winner David Price. Texas gets a boost, too — All-Star slugger Nelson Cruz will be active after his 50-game penalty from Major League Baseball in the Biogenesis drug scandal.
“He’s served his suspension,” Rays star Evan Longoria said. “It is what it is. Justice has been served.”
Asked if he expected to play, Cruz said: “I think so.”
It will be baseball’s first tiebreaker — officially, this is a regular-season game and the stats count — since Minnesota beat Detroit 6-5 in 12 innings for the 2009 AL Central title.
What was supposed to be the final day of the regular season began with the possibility of a three-way tie for a pair of AL wild-card spots.
Instead, Cleveland clinched its first postseason berth since 2007, winning 5-1 at Minnesota to finish at 92-70 and one game ahead of Texas and Tampa Bay as the top wild card.
Nick Swisher homered as the Indians became the first big league team to win their final 10 regular-season games since Baltimore closed with 11 straight victories in 1971, STATS said.
“I’m telling you, we’re bringing that wild-card game back to the 216 and that place is going to be packed out and rockin’, baby!” Swisher said, citing Cleveland’s area code.
Rookie Danny Salazar is set to start for the Indians against either Texas or Tampa Bay.
The NL playoff scene is settled. Johnny Cueto starts for Cincinnati against Francisco Liriano and the Pirates at Pittsburgh on Tuesday night in the NL wild-card playoff.
In the best-of-five division series, the NL wild-card winner is at St. Louis and the Los Angeles Dodgers start at Atlanta. The Dodgers will be minus center fielder Matt Kemp for the postseason because of swelling in a bone in his left ankle, an injury that caused him to missed 52 games in the last two months.
In the AL, Detroit opens at Oakland and the wild card visits Boston.
Texas won its seventh in a row, downing the visiting Los Angeles Angels 6-2. Tampa Bay held on for a 7-6 win at Toronto.
To the Rays, this tiebreaker is a chance for payback. Texas beat Tampa Bay in the division series in 2010 and 2011. The Rangers are hosting this game because they won the season series, 4-3.
“We have something to prove in Texas,” Longoria said. “We’ve left that place too many times with our heads down and disappointed. I feel like now is the time to be able to turn that page.”
The Tigers also are ready to move on. Alvarez threw a no-hitter against the AL Central champs, and the Marlins won 1-0 on a two-out wild pitch with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Before the wrapup in Miami, Detroit manager Jim Leyland said his team already was looking ahead.
“I want to play this game, I want to win this game, but I want to get this over with and get home,” Leyland said. “Guys are anxious. They want to get to the postseason.”
Alvarez sent them on their way, all right.
It was the fourth season-ending no-hitter ever, and first since Mike Witt of the Angels threw a perfect game at Texas in 1984.
“I knew I was pitching a no-hitter early in the game, that it was a gem,” Alvarez said through a translator. “I really wanted to finish it.”