CLEVELAND -- Danny Salazar's night could not have begun any better.
Surrounded by bedlam on all sides, Salazar calmly strode to the mound at Progressive Field to deliver the first pitch of the American League Wild Card Game on Wednesday, carrying all the experience that a 23-year-old with 10 big league starts can possibly claim.
His opening offering, a 94-mph fastball, went for a called strike. The fans cheered. They expressed their approval again after David DeJesus lined out on the next pitch. The crowd roared even louder when Wil Myers went down swinging, and became more energized still when James Loney followed suit, bringing a perfect first frame to a close.
Salazar's 10th and final pitch of the first inning, the one that Loney helplessly flailed at, sizzled in at 100 mph.
"Anybody throwing 100 who has decent control, you're pretty excited about that," right-hander Justin Masterson said. "He did a tremendous job."
It didn't take long for Salazar to show why the Indians handed him the ball when they needed to beat the Rays to advance to a date with the Red Sox in the AL Division Series. From the very beginning, he handled this giant moment with the poise Cleveland expected. He was not overwhelmed.
"It didn't look like it to me," manager Terry Francona said. "He's going to be a special pitcher."
Ultimately, Salazar's effort was not enough, nor was it perfect, which it needed to be considering how Alex Cobb performed as he led the Rays to a 4-0 win and a trip to Boston.
After Salazar cruised through the second inning, his first pitch of the third was up in the zone, and Delmon Young belted it over the wall in left field. In the fourth, with two outs and men on the corners, Salazar served up a bases-clearing double to Desmond Jennings, putting the Indians down by three runs.
"Like anything that happens, you have to keep your head up," Salazar said. "It's a big game. There's going to be two good teams. That's why they got to the postseason. You have to do the best you can out there."
Salazar was pulled after walking Jose Molina to start the fifth. Over his four-plus innings, the young righty was charged with four hits and three runs. He had four strikeouts and one walk.
Though Salazar was not restricted by the pitch limits imposed on him earlier in the season, he wound up with just 67 offerings, 42 of which went for strikes.
He came away from his first postseason experience wanting more, and who could blame him?
"Right now I'm just going to keep battling and working in the offseason," he said. "I got a little bit of a taste, and I liked it."
Though Salazar was not at his most dominant, the bright future that lies ahead of him was easy to see.
"He was comfortable," outfielder Michael Bourn said. "He threw the ball real well. He kept us in the game. He did all he was supposed to do."
"He's got unbelievable stuff," designated hitter Jason Giambi said. "He's still learning. He wants to learn. He's just going to keep getting better and better."
Salazar did not foresee being in this position when the season began. At the time he was a member of the Double-A Akron Aeros.
Much has changed since then. He was called up in July, and he joined the rotation in August. In 10 regular-season starts, he went 2-3 with a 3.12 ERA, racking up 65 strikeouts over 52 innings.
The Indians have high hopes for Salazar, and though their optimism would not have waned in the slightest had he struggled on Wednesday, they're certainly glad he didn't.
"He's going to be a big part of this team next year," Masterson said. "He kind of proved that this year."
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.