Stunning finish(es) push Rays past Sox
Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2011 7:02 pm
By FRED GOODALL
AP Baseball Writer
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — A startling comeback on the final day of the regular season carried the Tampa Bay Rays back to the playoffs.
Their chances of claiming the AL wild card in jeopardy, the Rays rallied Wednesday night from a late seven-run deficit to beat the New York Yankees 8-7 on Evan Longoria’s 12th-inning homer.
Throughout an improbable run for a third postseason berth in four years, manager Joe Maddon and his players talked about the unwavering faith they had in themselves and the prospect of making up nine games on Boston in the wild card standings. They caught the Red Sox on Tuesday and remained tied heading into the regular season finale.
Trailing 7-0 in the eighth inning, though, Matt Joyce conceded some doubt crept into his mind.
“It’s hard to say no. For a little bit there, there was,” Joyce said. “But at the same time, you still have to go out there. And we’re still playing hard, we’re still playing to win, and you never know what’s going to happen in the game of baseball. … What an unbelievable story this is. Unbelievable.”
Evan Longoria capped the comeback by hitting his second home run of the game, hooking a drive barely inside the left-field foul pole in the 12th inning.
Pinch-hitter Dan Johnson saved the Rays with a two-out, two-strike solo home run down the right field line in the ninth that made it 7-all.
“At no point was I thinking, ‘Oh, man, I have to hit this ball over the fence.’ It’s just one of those things that it just happened. I was up there trying to get on base,” Johnson said. “It was actually a pretty good pitch. It’s just, you know, the stars were aligned. I was able to get the barrel on it and keep it fair.”
Longoria connected shortly after midnight, four minutes after Boston blew a ninth-inning lead and lost at Baltimore 4-3.
If the Red Sox had held on, a one-game tiebreaker would have been played at Tropicana Field on Thursday.
“It’s a good feeling knowing that one put us into the playoffs and not into a playoff game,” Longoria said. “So I’m just thinking about, ’Wow, did this just really happen?’ … Man, when I saw it clear the fence it didn’t seem real.”
The crowd of 29,518 at Tropicana Field was mostly silent as the Rays trailed 7-0 going into the eighth. But Longoria’s three-run homer finished a six-run burst in the eighth and Johnson, hitting only .108, tied it with a shot off Cory Wade.
Longoria connected off Scott Proctor (0-3) to end it. Proctor was the Yankees’ 11th pitcher of the game — they did not use all-time career saves leader Mariano Rivera.
“I was imploring for a touchdown and a two-point conversion at that point,” Maddon said. “Of course, I always think we have a shot. … Because their bullpen was not going to be their normal bullpen, that permitted us to do that. If they have (Rafael) Soriano, (David) Robertson and Rivera available, that doesn’t happen.”
The fans roared when the Red Sox loss was posted on the scorecard. Moments later, they erupted again when Longoria homered.
“It’s a storybook finish,” designated hitter Johnny Damon said. “Definitely gratifying.”
The Rays will open the first round of the AL playoffs on Friday at Texas. They also met the Rangers in the ALDS a year ago, losing in five games.
“We really had everybody play their part and come through, so it’s something special,” Joyce said. “We have a special group of guys. There’s something magical about us, and it’s fun to be a part of it.”
Published in The Messenger 9.29.11