By the time the Rays headed to the bottom of the second inning against the Yankees on Wednesday night, it looked like Mark Teixeira had crushed Tampa Bay’s playoff hopes with one swing of the bat.
New York jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first when Ben Zobrist committed an error allowing Curtis Granderson to score.
In the second, starter David Price’s troubles continued when Teixeira launched a grand slam. Price would last just four innings.
Fast forward to the middle of the eighth, and the Rays were down 7-0. Like many others, I was still glued to the game and I held out hope. If Tampa Bay couldn’t make a grand comeback, at least the Orioles were just a run down from the Red Sox when they were delayed by rain in the seventh.
We believed. Somehow, some way, we could make it to the postseason.We just needed the stars to align.
The tide turned at the Trop in the bottom of the eighth.
Johnny Damon singled. Ben Zobrist doubled. Casey Kotchman was hit by a pitch. Sam Fuld walked, and Johnny came home. Down in the count, Sean Rodriguez was hit by a pitch and Ben Zobrist crossed the plate.
Then Desmond Jennings struck out.
B.J. Upton got the Rays back on a roll with a sacrifice fly to score Kotchman. Evan Longoria approached the plate with Sam Fuld and Sean Rodriguez on the bases.
Longoria came through with a three run shot to pull Tampa Bay within one run of New York.
And so we went to the ninth inning. With Joel Peralta on the hill, the Yankees went three up, three down.
In what could have been the final frame, Ben Zobrist flied out and then Casey Kotchman grounded out. But it wasn’t midnight yet and the Cinderella story of the team that was as many as nine games back in the month of September wasn’t over. Dan Johnson, a man affectionately nicknamed The Great Pumpkin, struck again. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Johnson faced a 2-2 count. He hit a solo home run to right field.
Johnson spent most of the season with Triple-A Durham. The homer was his first MLB hit since April 27.
The Rays didn’t walkoff in the ninth, so bonus baseball began.
Kyle Farnsworth, Brandon Gomes and Jake McGee each threw an inning and did not allow the Yankees to add to the seven runs they scored through the first five innings.
When the game was going into the 11th, Dirk Hayhurst, a former member of the Durham Bulls tweeted:
You know, the #rays do a great job of nurturing a culture where any player believes he can be a hero. Who will it be tonight?
After watching Dan Johnson get the Rays to extras, it was easy to wonder which former Durham Bull would come to the rescue.
B.J. Upton struck out swinging to begin the bottom of the innings at the Trop and as Evan Longoria stood in the on-deck circle, Baltimore beat Boston 4-3.
Longoria stepped to the plate and sent a solo shot over the left field wall. On Wednesday, the Rays’ roster had room for more than one hero.
As the AL Wild Card winners, Tampa Bay will face off against Texas in the ALDS beginning on Friday.