They trailed the Boston Red Sox by nine games the first week of September. Last night, they were down by seven runs against the New York Yankees. In fact, they were down to their last out in the ninth inning. And then the Tampa Bay Rays managed to rally all the way back to defeat the Yanks and clinch the 2011 American League Wild Card.
Some fans at Tropicana Field had left. Most stayed. And they were rewarded.
On the final day of the regular season, the Yankees led the Rays by the score of 7-0 heading into the eighth inning. With the big lead, New York manager Joe Girardi, pulled his starters and inserted Yanks reserves to finish the game. A mistake. Tampa Bay capitalized off of New York’s Triple-A squad lineup and staged a remarkable comeback. Third baseman Evan Longoria hit a pair of homers. His first was a three-run homerun in the eighth inning that capped a six-run rally by the Rays. However, it was his second homer that won the wild card for the Rays. The 12th inning, line-drive blast over the left-field wall not only placed Tampa Bay into the postseason, but put Longoria into the history books, as his clutch homerun became the sixth game-winning homer in major league history to clinch a postseason berth.
The four hour and fifty-four minute game summed up the type of baseball Tampa Bay has played all season. Through adversity, the Rays fought back in the month of September and earned the right to play in the AL playoffs. Wednesday night’s victory extended the Ray’s season at least for a couple more days, but abruptly ended the run of the Boston Red Sox.
It happened within minutes of each other. At Camden Yards, the Red Sox’s lost to the Baltimore Orioles (4-3), when pitcher Jonathan Papelbon couldn’t close out the O’s after Boston took a one-run lead heading into the ninth inning. Three minutes later, Tampa Bay defeated the New York Yankees in a come from behind victory (8-7), knocking out the Sox to clinch the Wild Card.
Wednesday night posted a shocking turn of events. Kismet? Maybe. A fluke? No way. One team knew how to finish, while the other, had no clue how to get it done. Tampa Bay trailed the Sox by nine games on September 2nd. But after a miserable start to the month, Boston continued their dismal slide, finishing with a 7-20 record in September. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Red Sox became the first team to miss the postseason after leading by as many as nine games for a playoff spot entering September. Perhaps Boston will go down with one of the worst collapses in baseball history, after garnering the most acclaim during the start of this season. But the fact of the matter remains, the Red Sox (90-72) don’t deserve to be in the postseason, and Tampa Bay Devil Rays (91-71) do.
Baseball in September has never been better. And we’re hoping the month of October wows us just the same. The Yanks with host the Tigers and the Rays will travel to Texas to face the Rangers in the AL Division Series, starting Friday.
Who will you root for?