Yesterday marked the fifth anniversary of one of the more famous games in the short history of the Tampa Bay Rays franchise.
On September 28, 2011, the Rays played the Yankees in the last game of the season, with the Yankees already having clinched the AL East division title a few days prior to the game. They (the Rays) were tied with the Boston Red Sox for the wild card spot (given to the team with the best record not winning a division, and back then only one wild card was allotted per league), meaning if the Rays and Red Sox each won or lost, there would have been a one-game playoff the following day in St. Petersburg.
The Yankees seemed the better team that night, holding a 7-0 lead going to the bottom of the 8th inning. When the Rays were seemingly doomed to hoping Boston would lose to Baltimore to force a playoff, the bats came alive for Tampa Bay in that next to last frame. They scratched for three runs in the inning before a mammoth home run by Evan Longoria cut the score to 7-6. In the 9th, Dan Johnson would homer with two outs, tying the game at 7-7 and forcing extra innings.
As the game had moved to the 12th inning, word came down that Boston had lost to Baltimore, ensuring that at the very least, the Rays and Red Sox would go to a playoff the next day should Tampa Bay lose this game. About a minute and a half later, Evan Longoria hit a line drive down the left field line, having just enough height to clear the short wall for a home run. The Rays won 8-7, and Evan Longoria joined Bobby Thompson of the 1951 New York Giants as the only two men to send their team to the playoffs on a home run.
As for me, I watched in total disbelief. I thought for sure it was the Yankees night, but when they jumped out to a 7-0 lead, it was disheartening. I remember turning the TV off and listening to the game on radio. When the Rays cut it to 7-3, I turned the game back on TV just in time to see Evan’s first homer that cut it to 7-6. People forget how important the Dan Johnson home run was, because if that were an out, the Rays would have lost. Then when the Rays won it in the 12th, I was speechless. I was happy they won, but I just couldn’t believe that they won.
It was quite a night.