The Tampa Bay Rays (90-71) crossed into the 90-win column with a dramatic 5-3 victory over the New York Yankees (97-64) that featured a little bit of everything -- stellar defense, laser-beam home runs, and a huge career milestone. Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox (90-71) managed to cling to an 8-7 victory over the Baltimore Orioles, leaving the league's most dramatic tie in tact in the AL Wild Card race.
Rookie Jeremy Hellickson toed the rubber for the Rays, building his resume for the Rookie of the Year award. He baffled the Yankees hitters through the first two innings, allowing only a single infield hit. Then, in the bottom of the second inning, Johnny Damon singled to right field for career hit number 2,722, passing Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig on the all-time hit list.
Four pitches later, Ben Zobrist smacked a Bartolo Colon fastball some two miles high and just-enough deep for a two-run homer. However, the Yankees answered back in the third, when Yankees catcher Russell Martin ambushed a Hellickson fastball for his 18th homer of the season. Rays 2, Yankees 1.
The Yankees then got back-to-back singles in the fifth, nabbing a run on a Curtis Granderson double play ball to tie the game at two apiece. The Yankees took the lead in the top of the sixth after Hellickson gave a lead-off walk to Alex Rodriguez, and then Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher doubled back-to-back. Strangely, Teixeira did not score on Swisher's double, leaving the score at 3-2. Hellickson intentionally walked DH Jorge Posada to face Russell Martin, who had homered in his previous at bat.
Then came the play of the season: Martin swung at the first pitch from Hellboy, a changeup over the inside half of the plate, and grounded the ball hard to Evan Longoria covering third, who fed it to Ben Zobrist at second, who rifled it to Sean Rodriguez at third for a crucial and unbelievable triple play.
Seemingly re-energized from the defense, the Rays hitters pressured Colon out of the game one out into the fifth inning. Then, in the seventh, the Yankees sent in former Rays closer Rafael Soriano, who promptly walked B.J. Upton on five pitches. Longoria then worked a follow-up walk after starting down 0-2 to Soriano.
With runners on first and second, Rays right fielder Matt Joyce stepped to the plate, having about as hot a September as any other Ray. And when Soriano's second pitch veered over the middle of the plate, Joyce obliterated it, sending it to the right field bleachers for a decisive three-run home run.
Jake McGee (W, 4-2), Brandon Gomes (H, 5), and Kyle Farnsworth (S, 25) combined to silence the Yankees' final three frames and bring the Rays a key late-season win.
American League Wild Card Standings
|Tampa Bay||90||71||.559||0||Won 4|
|Los Angeles||86||74||.537||3.5||Lost 2|
|Kansas City||71||90||.440||19||Lost 1|
(updated 9.28.2011 at 12:21 AM EDT)
The Rays take on the Yankees again tomorrow at 7:10 p.m. ET. The Yankees have yet to announce their starting pitcher, but have intimated they will send out most of their regulars for the game. Meanwhile, the Red Sox will look to win again over the Orioles, starting Jon Lester on three-day's rest.