It has been 94 days since the greatest game in Rays history. It was not a championship game, but it was easily the finest contest in which the Rays ever participated. In this holiday time, let us reflect on that other-worldy game -- that gift of a game.
The game started poorly, though. With the Rays' ace David Price on the mound, Curtis Granderson flared a single into center field in front of B.J. Upton. All seemed kosher, still, and even after Granderson pilfered second base with two outs, all still seemed fine.
I mean, who cares about fate in the first inning when you've just erased a 9.5-game deficit in just a matter of weeks? Well, Robinson Cano, fighting through 8 pitches, knocked the ball to second base where a highly uncharacteristic error from Ben Zobrist put the Rays behind 0-1.
After the Rays offense finished the bottom of the first with a pair of looking strikeouts, many Rays fans were beginning to feel that swirling rumbling in the stomach -- that ominous foretaste of emotional suffering. The Rays could not solve Dellin Betances -- a Sure, Why Not? among prospects.
And then, an inning later, Mark Teixeira blasted a grand slam to left and Price looked beaten, the Rays looked beaten, and the Rays fans felt beaten, down 0-5 early. Price calmed down though, fought through the third inning, and then let Teixeira blast his second homer, pushing the score to 0-6. Andruw Jones said, "Hey, that looks like fun," adding his own tater against Juan Cruz in the 5th.
If you, dear Rays fan, were like me, then you were still glued to your TV or computer. You had to believe after everything that had happened over the last four weeks -- the last four months even.
The Rays trailed the Yankees 0-7 entering the 8th. Rays fans are doing the math: A grand slam this inning, and then a three-run homer ties it in the ninth. That's still doable! ... Right?
Meanwhile, the Yankees have been trotting out relievers and fielders not seen since Spring Training. The scrubs, backups, and call-ups from New York continued to stifle Tampa Bay's best and to devastate the Rays faithful.
Eighth inning. First at bat. Johnny Damon singles to left on one of his many blooping fly balls, slowly careening just beyond Cano's outstretched glove. Next pitch, Ben Zobrist redirects the ball down the left field line for a double. 1B Casey Kotchman gets hit, loading the bases.
With C Kelly Shoppach up next, Joe Maddon elects to pinch hit the Legend, OF Sam Fuld. With six pitched, Fuld draws the walk and the Rays are on the board, 1-7. Sean Rodriguez follows with another hit by pitch and 2-7 score.
Rays fans have the abacus out again: A grand slam puts it at 6-7 with no outs!
LF Desmond Jennings, crazy hot a few weeks ago, strikes out. B.J. Upton lifts a fly ball to left, bringing Kotchman home: 3-7, but two outs now.
3B Evan Longoria steps up to the plate and Rays play-by-play guy, Dewayne Staats, says, "It would be fun -- just for fun -- if he hit a long one."
A shot. Screaming to left.
"AND THERE IT IS! LONG DRIVE! DEEP TO LEFT! GONE! LONGORIA HITS A LONG ONE!"
Longoria's 30th home run put the game at 6-7. Well within reach.
After a quiet 9th from the Yankees, Zobrist and Kotchman gave the Yanks two outs on 8 pitches.
On a whim of a prayer, Maddon sends Dan Johnson to the plate. Johnson, the starting first base man at the beginning of the season, had struggled intensely in 2011. After floundering in the first month of the season, the Rays sent Jonson down to Durham where it took him somewhere around two months to find his stroke again.
Now, stepping to the plate with a 6-7 deficit, Johnson stares the end of his worst season in the face, in the incarnation of his former Durham mate Cory Wade.
Strike one. Ball one. Strike two. The game, the season a strike from done. Ball two. Foul, a fastball knocked half-heartedly to the third base seats.
Wade looked in for the sign. Curve. But it doesn't drop like it should. It hangs a touch.
Johnson turns on it, and it lasers to right field, hooking foul -- but it's flying too hard and it hits a fan on the front row -- home run.
At that point, it seemed like a matter of time. Kyle Farnsworth, Brandon Gomes, and Jake McGee begin to mow through a reduced Yankees lineup. In the bottom of the 12th, moments after the Red Sox lost to the Baltimore Orioles, Evan Longoria cranks number 31, and history was there, and it was made.