On an evening when the Red Sox jumped out to a lead and the Rays fell behind the Yankees 7-0, Tampa Bay put the finishing touches on one of the most dramatic comebacks you'll ever see.
Evan Longoria launched his second home run of the game in the bottom of the 12th inning to give the Rays the American League wild card. It was a line drive that just cleared the fence down the left-field line, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
This came after Longoria's three-run shot in the eighth inning made the score 7-6 and gave the Rays new life. The Rays were then down to their final strike in the ninth, but Dan Johnson extended the game with a home run down the right-field line.
Three innings later, just minutes after the Orioles put the finishing touches on a come-from-behind win, the Rays seized the American League wild card. In many ways, it's a microcosm of the final month of the season.
12:06 a.m.: Rays win. Enough said.
12:03 a.m.: Red Sox lose. Enough said.
Mid 12th, 7-7: The inning started off promising for the Yankees, with Greg Golson and Eric Chavez stringing together back-to-back singles. Chavez' came on a lazy blooper to left-center, which allowed Golson to get all the way to third.
But Golson made a costly mistake three pitches later that wiped him off the basepaths. Jorge Posada chopped a 97-mph fastball to Longoria at third base. Golson initially took off, as if he was off on contact, but he then stopped. When he tried to dive back to third, Longoria tagged him out for the first out of the inning.
Chris Dickerson then struck out swinging, and Brett Gardner grounded out to second to end the inning.
The Rays will send B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria and Jose Lobaton to the plate in the bottom of the 12th.
11:50 p.m.: Greg Golson hit a ball between short and third that went off Longoria's glove and trickled away for a base hit. The Rays will now turn to a new pitcher in Jake McGee.
Meanwhile, "Big Game" James Shields has started loosening in the Tampa Bay bullpen. That's how big this game is.
Shields pitched 8 2/3 innings, throwing 117 pitches, on Monday night.
End 11th, 7-7: Scott Proctor walked Ben Zobrist to begin the bottom of the 11th. After a Casey Kotchman fly out, Brandon Guyer hit a line drive just past the outstretched glove of Eduardo Nunez to put runners at first and second.
Sean Rodriguez then grounded into a force out at third, and Desmond Jennings popped out to second. Jennings is now 0-for-6 on the evening.
We'll head to the 12th, when the Yankees will send up Greg Golson, Eric Chavez and Jorge Posada. Brandon Gomes will toe the rubber again.
Mid 11th, 7-7: Brandon Gomes is the latest pitcher to enter the game, keeping up what looks like the most intense spring training game. Of course, we know that isn't the case, but the amount of lineup/pitching changes certainly reflects one.
Eduardo Nunez flew out to center to start the inning. The next batter, Brandon Laird, lifted a looping fly ball to left field, but Desmond Jennings made a sliding grab for the inning's second out.
Ramiro Pena put on an eight-pitch battle, but Gomes eventually ensured the Rays offense would have another chance to come up in a tie game by striking him out swinging.
The Rays will send Ben Zobrist, Casey Kotchman and Brandon Guyer to the plate in the home half of the 11th.
11:25 p.m.: On the NL side of the fence, the Cardinals were victorious this evening. They defeated the Astros 8-0.
Meanwhile, the Braves and Phillies are deadlocked 3-3 in the 13th inning, although Philly is threatening in the away half. The Braves now need to win to force a one-game playoff.
End 10th, 7-7: B.J. Upton worked a walk to begin the inning, bringing up Evan Longoria with the winning run on first. After a heavy dose of pickoff attempts, Longoria lifted a 2-2 pitch to right-center. Brett Gardner and Chris Dickerson nearly collided, but Gardner called for it and hauled it in for the first out.
Jose Lobaton then suffered one of the longest three-pitch strikeouts you'll ever see. Proctor continuously checked on Upton at first before finally striking out Lobaton looking on a 95-mph fastball.
Johnny Damon, who always seems to have a flair for the dramatic (although he popped out to end the ninth inning with a runner on second), came up with a chance to win it. He wasn't able to do anything, though, as he fell victim to another Proctor K.
Mid 10th, 7-7: Kyle Farnsworth took over in the top of the 10th to face his former team. He played with the Yankees in 2006, 2007 and parts of 2008. But he's been much better this season than he had been in any of those seasons, as he's typically been a guy who can throw a ball threw a brick wall — just as long as finds musters up enough accuracy to hit it.
Farnsworth made quick work of Eric Chavez to begin the inning, striking him out on three pitches. He then followed up by striking out pinch-hitter Jorge Posada on four pitches, the last of which was a 97-mph heater.
Then, things got a bit dicey for a second. Chris Dickerson walked on four pitches and stole second. Farnsworth then intentionally walked Brett Gardner. That move paid off for the Rays, though, as Austin Romine struck out on three pitches.
The Yankees had the go-ahead run in scoring position, but it went for naught. The Rays will now have a chance to send the fans home happy — and also make those who left early belt out their best Homer Simpson "Doh!"
End 9th, 7-7: With Scott Proctor on after the Yankees watched their lead evaporate, Sean Rodriguez hit a slow roller than Eduardo Nunez couldn't do anything with.
Then, Rodriguez took off on the fourth pitch of Desmond Jennings' at-bat. But Jennings simultaneously took a whack at it and hit a ball that ricocheted off Proctor's glove. Pena was there to gobble it up and fire to first to end the inning.
10:49 p.m.: After all the noise the Rays made in the eighth inning, they brought the house down in the ninth.
Down to their final strike, Dan Johnson, pinch hitting for Sam Fuld, ripped a line drive down the right-field line that just cleared the fence.
This came after a lackluster start to the inning by the Rays. Ben Zobrist flew out to center field to begin the inning, and Casey Kotchman grounded out to Eric Chavez at third for the second out. It was actually a pretty nice play by Chavez, who's made a living off his defensive prowess. He fielded a short-hop cleanly with a backhand.
Wade quickly got ahead of Johnson 1-2, but Johnson came up with the biggest hit of the Rays' season. He jumped all over an 83-mph changeup and blasted it out to right.
The Yankees are now turning to their 11th pitcher in Scott Proctor.
Mid 9th, Yankees 7-6: Peralta made sure the Rays will enter the home half of the ninth needing only one run to keep this game going.
Peralta got Brandon Laird to pop out to short on a handsome splitter to begin the inning. He then struck out Ramiro Pena with another good-looking offspeed pitch for the second out, and got Greg Golson to fly out to left for the third out.
Coming up for the Rays in the ninth inning will be Ben Zobrist, Casey Kotchman and Sam Fuld — not exactly the 1927 Yankees, but it'll have to do.
The Yankees won't turn to Mariano Rivera, with this game pretty much meaningless for them. Instead they'll turn to not-so-Hall of Famer Cory Wade for the game's final three outs.
End 8th, Yankees 7-6: It's official. The Rays do, in fact, have a pulse.
After loading the bases against Boone Logan, Luis Ayala came in and walked Sam Fuld, who was pinch hitting for Kelly Shoppach. That plated the first run of the game for the Rays, but it was just the tip of the iceberg.
Sean Rodgriguez was hit by a pitch, marking the second Tampa Bay run, before Desmond Jennings struck out on a 3-2 offering. B.J. Upton then hit a sac fly to cut the Yankees lead to 7-3.
Elite players come up with big hits in big situations (very philosophical, huh?). Evan Longoria proved why he's a franchise player, lifting an absolute bomb into the bleachers in left. The three-run shot cut the Yankees lead to one.
The next batter, John Jaso, ripped a base hit through the right side and was lifted for a pinch runner in Elliot Johnson. Johnson quickly swiped second to move up into scoring position for Johnny Damon, but Damon popped out to second to end the inning.
Meanwhile, I have now have carpal tunnel from these fast and furious updates. I'm going to get a coffee — this game isn't over. Stay tuned, as Joel Peralta is coming in to try to keep this a 7-6 game.
10:13 p.m.: Few things to update you all on, and as the Yankees make their 641st pitching change of the evening (barely an exaggeration), now seems as good a time as any.
The Rays are staging their first rally of the game, as they've loaded the bases with no outs. But perhaps the bigger news is that Yankees catcher Jesus Montero has come out of the game after getting shaken up following a hit batsman (Casey Kotchman). Austin Romine is in for him.
Oh yeah, and the Yankees have changed pitchers. Luis Ayala is in the game.
Mid 8th, Yankees 7-0: De La Rosa headed back out to work the eighth for the Rays and did a nice job of keeping the Yankees offense at bay.
He got Andruw Jones to ground out to third on a 96-mph cut-fastball for the first out and then retired Jesus Montero on a nasty slider for the second out. Eduardo Nunez dug in, but he flew out before he could even make himself at home.
Prior to the start of the inning, Justin Ruggiano replaced Russ Canzler in the lineup for the Yanks and went in to play right field.
On to the bottom of the eighth we go, where the over/under on how many pitchers the Yankees use is set at three.
End 7th, Yankees 7-0: After Burnett's short-lived cameo resulted in one out — and shockingly no runs — the 6-foot-10 Brackman came in the game and got Desmond Jennings to ground out to the shortstop Nunez.
Nunez had a chance to pick up another assist for the third out, but he bobbled it in the hole, which allowed B.J. Upton to reach. Brackman then walked Longoria on four pitches, which spelled the end of his night.
Boone Logan entered the game with two on and two out. The Yankees must be trying to tear up the turf leading from the bullpen to the mound because he's the eighth pitcher that Joe Girardi has turned to in this game. It's like Russian dolls out in the Yankees pen; each time a pitcher comes in the game, there appears to be another one that takes his seat.
Anyways, Logan struck out Russ Canzler, who pinch hit for Matt Joyce, to end the inning.
9:47 p.m.: I don't know what to make of that situation, but Burnett came on, faced one batter, threw five pitches and then headed for the dugout. He retired Sean Rodriguez on a groundout to third.
It's as if Joe Girardi finally came to his senses after brain fart. Either way, Andrew Brackman's coming in. He's tall.
9:45 p.m.: Hold the phone. This game isn't over yet. A.J. Burnett has come on in relief for the Yankees. Stay tuned.
Mid 7th, Yankees 7-0: Mark Teixeira, already with two home runs on the evening, led off the away half of the seventh. He grounded out softly to the mound, though.
Robinson Cano followed that up with a popout on what proved to be the last batter Ramos would face. With Dane De La Rosa in the game, Nick Swisher grounded out to Zobrist at second.
It's seventh-inning stretch time at the Trop, but it certainly isn't a joyous one. Meanwhile, in Baltimore, the Red Sox and Rays are in the midst of a rain delay, with the Sox leading 3-2.
9:36 p.m.: If I were the Tropicana Field public address announcer, I don't think I'd encourage Rays fans to stand up and stretch because at the conclusion of this half inning. It would likely only result in them running right out of the building.
End 6th, Yankees 7-0: Raul Valdes replaced Phil Hughes in the sixth.
He struck out Matt Joyce on a nice breaking ball to begin the inning, marking the second time tonight that Joyce has gone down by way of the K. He's now 0-for-3 after delivering a monsterous home run on Tuesday night.
Valdes then started Damon off with fastballs before turning to his curveball, but Damon consistently laid off and worked a walk.
Zobrist wasn't as patient, however, as he swung at the first offering he saw and popped out to Teixeira for the first out. Tex' first-base counterpart, Casey Kotchman, followed up with a single, but it marked the only offense the Rays would muster up, as Kelly Shoppach popped out to end the inning.
It's official: there's a whole lot of Rays fans filing to the exits as we speak. This is an entirely different team than we've seen lately.
As far as Yankees replacements go: Ramiro Pena took over for Derek Jeter in the sixth. He played second base, while Eduardo Nunez switched over to shortstop. Greg Goglson, who pinch hit for Granderson, remained in the game to play center field.
Mid 6th, Yankees 7-0: Juan Cruz, who gave up the blast to Andruw Jones in the fifth, came back out the start the sixth.
He featured a good mix of pitches to Brandon Laird, who eventually popped out to short. Derek Jeter grounded out to second on a 2-2 fastball for the second out, which also marked the end of Cruz's night.
Cesar Ramos took over and was greeted by Greg Golson, who pinch hit for Granderson. Ramos got him to pop out to Kotchman at first to end the inning.
It was a bit surprising to see so many starters in the Yankees lineup for this game, but Golson's pinch-hit at-bat is an indication that manager Joe Girardi could be turning to the bench in the later innings. That makes it a bit surprising that Jeter remained in the game for his at-bat.
On to the home half of the sixth we go, with the Rays looking to get something — anything — going.
End 5th, Yankees 7-0: Sean Rodriguez, hitting for Reid Brignac, saw 11 pitches, including one that he laced just foul down the left field line. He eventually walked, which woke a few Rays fans up, but the next few hitters ensured they went right back to sleep.
The Rays squandered the leadoff walk, as Jennings, Upton and Longoria went down in order on a flyout, force out at second and a strikeout, respectively.
Mid 5th, Yankees 7-0: Is this 2005? Andruw Jones just went yard to give the Yankees a 7-0 lead on the suddenly lifeless Rays.
Juan Cruz, relieving David Price, surrendered the blast. He threw Jones a 93-mph fastball that the 34-year-old turned on in a hurry.
Eduardo Nunez went down looking to end the inning, but the Yankees light up the scoreboard for the fourth time in five innings.
End 4th, Yankees 6-0: Aaron Laffey came on for his second inning of work and hit Johnny Damon to begin the frame. He then retired the next three batters in order.
Laffey threw Zobrist a good mix of sliders and sinkers, seemingly looking to induce a double play. He ended up getting Zobrist swinging on a sinker to record a strikeout, though.
Then, along came Casey Kotchman, who Laffey did get to hit one on the ground. But Teixeira was only able to step on the bag for one out. Shoppach ended the inning by flying out to center.
Phil Hughes has been warming up in the bullpen for the Yanks, so we may see him next inning.
It's a very disgruntled crowd right now, made obvious by the fact that even the Rays out in the Rays Touch Tank are leaping out of the water in disgust. Or maybe that's just something real Rays do. Either way.
Mid 4th, Yankees 6-0: David Price is getting served a heavy dose of Tex Mix right now.
After getting Jeter to pop out and Granderson to strike out, Mark Teixeira launched his second home run of the game — his 39th of the season — off the Rays left-hander.
David Price just hasn't had it tonight, folks. Where's Matt Garza when you need him?
Over in Baltimore, Dustin Pedroia went yard literally seconds later to give the Red Sox a 3-2 lead.
In NL action, the Braves lead the Phillies 3-1 and the Cardinals lead the Astros 5-0.
End 3rd, Yankees 5-0: Kontos issued a four-pitch free pass to Desmond Jennings to begin the inning, at which point Joe Maddon decided to put the wheels in motion. The young outfielder swiped second base easily.
Upton unleashed an uppercut swing on one, but it resulted in a routine fly to left for the first out of the inning.
A quick 10-second delay — for some unknown reason — brought Joe Maddon and his hair out of the dugout, but the conversation was short-lived. Evan Longoria then stepped in and grounded out to Laird at third for out No. 2.
After turning to their third pitcher of the evening (at this rate you or I could get the nod), Aaron Laffey Taffy got Matt Joyce to pop out to short on the first pitch of the at-bat.
Mid 3rd, Yankees 5-0: David Price is working his fingers to the bone early at the Trop. He's thrown 82 pitches through three innings.
Nick Swisher said "what's up" to the third inning by doubling into the gap. After Andruw Jones struck out looking, Jesus Montero grounded out to short, which allowed Swisher to advance to third. Eduardo Nunez was then intentionally walked before stealing second. Brandon Laird ended the inning by lazily flying out to left.
The Yankees are turning to George Kontos in place of Betances in the third inning, begging the question, "what rotation are we looking at?"
End 2nd, Yankees 5-0: Ben Zobrist saw eight pitches but eventually grounded out to Nunez at second for the inning's first out.
Casey Kotchman, who returns to the lineup after being taken to the hospital on Tuesday because of chest pains, then lined one right back at Betances that struck him on the back of the leg. After 600 trainers filed out of the Yankees dugout in an orderly fashion, he appears to be alright.
Former Red Sox farmhand Kelly Shoppach then hit a sky-high popup down the left-field line that Laird fielded cleanly. It was one of those popups where you just waited for the mini golf course that is Tropicana Field to play a role, but it never happened. Reid Brignac lined out to end the inning.
Mid 2nd, Yankees 5-0: Break out the bread and mustard.
Stud rookie Jesus Montero lined out to Upton in center to begin the inning, but the rest of the Yankees order really made life difficult for Price, who's now thrown 59 pitches through two frames.
Eduardo Nunez doubled into the gap in left-center and Brandon Laird, a late addition to the lineup, singled into left. With runners at the corners, Jeter worked a seven-pitch walk, which loaded the bases for the aggressive Curtis Granderson.
Swinging for the downs on the first pitch, Granderson popped one up in the infield, resulting in your textbook infield fly rule. Granderson entered the game hitting .179 off Price in 28 career ABs and is now 1-for-2.
But all of this was just the appetizer for Mark Teixeira's grand salami, as Teixeira roped a 3-2 pitch into the bleachers in left. Price dialed it up to 97 mph at challenge time, but, well, he lost.
Somewhere, Red Sox fans are beginning their Teixeira-for-MVP campaign.
End 1st, Yankees 1-0: The bottom of the first was kind of a strange inning. Betances struggled with his command, prompting the Yankees to get action up in the bullpen already. This seems a bit strange, especially considering this game is essentially meaningless for the Yankees.
But, in the end, the big righty didn't allow a run.
After Desmond Jennings flew out to begin the Rays' night offensively, B.J. Upton worked a walk and subsequently stole second base. But then, after walking Evan Longoria, Betances struck out Matt Joyce and Johnny Damon on four and five pitches, respectively. As I mentioned, though, he was a bit wild in doing so.
7:30 p.m.: If you don't know Yankees starter Dellin Betances, you're not alone. But here's some fun facts for you:
Making his major league debut, Betances was drafted in the eighth round of the 2006 draft. The 23-year-old has been ranked highly throughout the Yankees' farm system since forgoing his commitment to Vanderbilt after being drafted.
But here's the funnest of all: As Andrew Marchand of ESPN.com points out, Betances was in the bleachers for David Wells' perfect game in 1998. Boomer!
Mid 1st, Yankees 1-0: The Yankees score, the-e-e-e-e Yankees score! Doesn't have the same effect when used via text in the first inning of a game, but it's still the facts nonetheless.
David Price got ahead of Derek Jeter early with a heavy dose of fastballs, topping out around 94. After fouling off a few, Jeter went down looking for out No. 1.
The next batter, Granderson, blooped a single into center field and moved up to second as a ball traveled to the backstop. Mark Teixeira then gave one a ride to left, but it was tracked down fairly easily.
Robinson Cano then battled for eight pitches, seeing a heavy dose of fastballs from Price before the lefty switched things up with a 78-mph breaking ball. Cano rolled it over to second, but second baseman Ben Zobrist threw up all over himself and the lazy ground ball ate him up. Granderson, running hard from the initial crack of the bat, came around to score from second easily as Zobrist tracked the ball down in shallow right field.
Price proceeded to walk the next batter, Nick Swisher, on five pitches. Andruw Jones (Yes, that Andruw Jones) went on to ground out to ensure no more damage was done, but it's a 28-pitch first inning for Price — not exactly what the doctor (any doctor) ordered.
Also, I hate cowbells — as well various other noise-making contraptions.
7:10 p.m.: About ready for first pitch and I just housed coffee No. 2. I'm pretty sure if you put me out on the field right now, I could pull the old-scool "RBI Baseball" for Sega routine and steal two bases on one throwdown. But that's going to happen. So instead I'll just talk about it.
I'll also talk a great deal about tonight's game, which, as I'm sure you've heard, is kind of a big one.
A lot scoreboard watching is going on across Major League Baseball right now, as the Braves and Cardinals are also tied for the NL wild card lead. I'll throw you all a few updates on that end as well, so feel free to catch 'em.
P.S. Joe Maddon has to be the hippest manager to come along in awhile. He's like the older dude at a party that you have no idea who he is, but he's more than willing to party with everyone and offers to show his CD collection 700 times. Like I said, hip.
7:05 p.m.: Alex Rodriguez was initially penciled into the Yankees lineup, but Brandon Laird will now play in his place. He'll bat ninth, with Swisher, Jones and Montero all moving up a spot.
6:40 p.m. ET: It all comes down to the last day of the 2011 regular season.
If the Red Sox win and the Rays lose, the Sox are in. If the Rays win and the Sox lose, the Rays are in. If both teams win or lose, we'll have a one-game playoff on Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m. to determine who will represent the American League as this year's wild card winner.
As Jon Lester takes the Camden Yards mound in the hopes of leading the Red Sox to victory, another lefty will be trying to do the same for the Tampa Bay Rays. David Price will be toeing the rubber for the Rays down at the Trop against Dellin Betances and the Yankees.
With a 12-13 record and a 3.35 ERA this season, Price has taken a step backward following a season in which he finished second in AL Cy Young voting. Those numbers are below his usual standards mostly because of his inability to win games lately. Price is winless in his last five starts, going 0-2 in that span. His last win came in Toronto on Aug. 28.
But Price's September ERA is still at a very respectable 3.03 entering Wednesday's showdown in St. Pete. He's allowed two earned runs or less in eight of his last nine starts, while allowing three in the other one. The Rays offense, which has been anemic for most of this season, has plagued him, however.
In his career against the Bronx Bombers, Price is 4-2 with a 3.67 ERA in 12 games (11 starts). But Red Sox fans know from the 2008 ALCS, during which he tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings, that he has the potential to come up big in big situations.
Opposite Price for the Yankees will be Betances, a physically imposing figure — 6-foot-8, 260 pounds — who is making his first career major league start. He's only appeared in one game this season, allowing two runs in 2/3 of an inning.
Despite the game being a meaningless one for the Yankees, they'll be sending out a fairly normal lineup, with the exceptions being Russell Martin and Brett Gardner, who are both out of the lineup. Robinson Cano will DH.
First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m. Check out the complete lineups below.
Desmond Jennings, LF
B.J. Upton, CF
Evan Longoria, 3B
Matt Joyce, RF
Johnny Damon, DH
Ben Zobrist, 2B
Casey Kotchman, 1B
Kelly Shoppach, C
Reid Brignac, SS
Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, DH
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Nick Swisher, RF
Andruw Jones, LF
Jesus Montero, C
Eduardo Nunez, 2B