ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 28: Evan Longoria #3 of the Tampa Bay Rays rounds the bases after his game-winning walk off home run in the twelfth inning against the New York Yankees during the game at Tropicana Field on September 28, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
"I don't believe, what I just saw!" - The Tampa Bay Rays have shocked the baseball world, completing a 9-game comeback and capturing the AL Wildcard.
The Tampa Bay Rays have won the American League Wildcard! On the seasons last day, game 162, down to their last out and their last strike, the unimaginable has happened and for the third year out of the last four, the small market, never-say-die Tampa Bay Rays are going to the post season.
One day we will tell our kids about this.
We will use big words like remarkable, incredible, unbelievable, and the superlatives will still fail to do the feat justice. We will talk of Evan Longoria as a hero, Casey Kotchman as a spark-plug, and Dan Johnson as a legend. For the rest of our sports viewing lives we will attempt to explain, to rationalize, how this team actually completed the impossible, and only because we saw it with our own eyes will we believe it.
The Boston Red Sox were supposed to be the greatest team ever constructed, they were destined to challenge the 1927 Yankees as the best team in league history. No one had ever blown a lead as big as the 9 games the Rays overcame, Wednesday, and on September 1st the Rays had a less than 1% chance of making the postseason. In fact, the Red Sox had never lost a game in 2010 when leading after 8 innings, and Robert Andino didn't have a chance against dominant closer Jonathan Papelbon. Right up until he smacked a sinking liner at Boston's big free agent acquisition, signed with his gold glove defense in mind. But Carl Crawford missed the ball, a play that albeit difficult, Rays fans saw him make countless times in Tropicana Field.
Just like that, the Orioles sent shock waves across the baseball world, reverberating from Massachusetts to St. Petersburg, completing the massive collapse of a juggernaut that saw the Red Sox lose 20 games in the seasons final month.
Evan Longoria didn't wait long to finish the job. The scoreboard at Tropicana Field displayed the 4-3 Orioles victory and the crowd went wild as Longoria stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 12th inning, sensing destiny. He promptly deposited a 1-1 pitch over the shortest wall in the stadium for his second home run of the night, and walked-off the game and the season, propelling the Rays into October for the second consecutive year.
It still feels like a dream, like the alarm clock will go off any second for Rays fans everywhere. Dan Johnson feels more like a folk lore myth, than reality. The embattled lefty, with the ginger beard, owner of the franchises most significant home run couldn't have possibly out done himself could he? That Dan Johnson? The one that was demoted to AAA after failing to hit his weight in April, the same Dan Johnson that did not have a hit in the Major Leagues since springtime. Indeed, that's the guy Joe Maddon called upon with his team down to the last out of the season, clinging to a mere glimmer of hope, and down to his last strike Johnson inexplicably repeated his own history, launching a belt high fastball into the corner of right field, immortalizing himself in franchise lore for all eternity-again.
A 40-million dollar payroll couldn't keep this group out of the postseason. Struggling attendance and national criticism didn't get these guys down. A 7-0 lead by the juggernaut New York Yankees could not stop this team. They believed when no one else did. They fought to the bitter end when no one gave them a chance. They took an opportunity handed to them by a struggling Red Sox team and ran with it. They won 6 out of 7 head to head in September against Boston, and swept the AL East champions to finish the job. There was a triple play at a crucial time, a 6 run 8th inning rally, magic, legends, and lightning.
For a team that seemingly never took the easy way out this season, would you have expected anything different in game 162?
Tomorrow we will look towards the Texas Rangers, and the American League Division Series. It's still hard to believe it, and typing it seems surreal. But that's tomorrow. Today, we celebrate. We pop champagne. We wear our Longoria shirts with pride. We honk our horns at Rays license plates and we smile, because our little team from St. Pete just shocked the baseball world, and finished off the biggest comeback in the history of the sport.
Congratulations, Tampa Bay Rays. Congratulations, Tampa Bay fans. What a day.