St. Petersburg, FL – This wasn't just a special September for the Tampa Bay Rays. It was magical.
The Rays not only rallied from a huge deficit in the wild card standings, but on the final night of the regular season, came back from a seven-run deficit to make the postseason -- thanks to the power of Evan Longoria and Dan Johnson.
Tampa Bay's 8-7 win in 12 innings over the AL East-champion New York Yankees, coupled with Boston's final-inning collapse at Baltimore, boosted the Rays into the playoffs as the wild card team.
Longoria's three-run homer highlighted a six-run eighth inning and Johnson's pinch-hit homer tight to the line in right field on a 2-2 pitch with two outs in the ninth tied the game.
After the Rays escaped a big jam in the top of the 12th, Longoria took a one-out, 2-2 pitch from Scott Proctor (0-3) on a line barely over the short wall in left, near the foul pole, to send the Rays to the postseason.
With Tampa Bay (91-71) and the Red Sox entering the final night even in the standings, the scenario was set for the Rays to make history on Wednesday, and they did. They wiped out a nine-game deficit in the wild card race, starting September 4. No team had ever overcome that many games in September to get to the postseason.
"I love what the Rays do and create a first within the organization, but now we've done something as a first for Major League Baseball," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's all on the guys, it's all on the coaches. If you're with us on a daily basis, the work routine, the camaraderie, the coaches preparation is outstanding. That's how we're able to overcome a nine-game deficit going into September."
The Rays begin their best-of-five Division Series against the Texas Rangers in Arlington at 5:07 p.m. (et) on Friday. It'll be a rematch from the ALDS from 2010 when the Rangers won in five games.
The Yankees (97-65) will head to the playoffs hosting the AL Central-champion Detroit Tigers on Friday at 8:37 p.m. (et) in that best-of-five Division Series.
Meanwhile, the Rays are trying to follow in the footsteps of an incredible story from 2010. On the final day of that season, the Giants beat the Padres to win the NL West. San Francisco went on to win the World Series.
The Rays looked dead in the water facing a seven-run deficit thanks to a pair of Mark Teixeira home runs, including a grand slam.
"Fans should be excited this was one of the best days in baseball's history," Teixeira said. "Every game tonight all across baseball seemed like it mattered. There were some great finishes."
However, the team made a huge rally in the eighth. Luis Ayala walked pinch- hitter Sam Fuld with the bases full and then hit Sean Rodriguez with a pitch. B.J. Upton's sacrifice fly scored Casey Kotchman, but that was the second out. Longoria then homered on a first offering to left-center field, his 30th of the season.
"The runs in the eighth were the big ones. That really lifted us up," Longoria said.
Then in the ninth, Cory Wade, New York's 10th pitcher, got Johnson in a 2-2 count, but he hit just his second homer of the year as the ball sneaked inside the right field foul pole.
The Yankees wasted a chance with two men on in the 10th and 12th, while the Rays stranded a pair in the 10th. In fact, New York had men at first and third with nobody out in the 12th, but with Jake McGee (5-2) on the mound, Jorge Posada grounded to Longoria, who tagged out Greg Golson before he could get back to the third base bag. McGee retired the next two batters, setting up the incredible finish.
David Price gave up six hits and six runs -- five earned -- over four innings in the start for the Rays, while Dellin Betances allowed a hit over the first two innings in his first big league start for New York.
The Rays were in trouble immediately. Curtis Granderson singled with one out in the first and stole second with two down. The Rays should have been out of the inning when Robinson Cano grounded a ball to second baseman Ben Zobrist, but it never corralled it and Granderson scored standing up.
Tampa Bay stranded two men in the bottom of the frame, and the Yankees widened the margin thanks to Teixeira's seventh career grand slam in the second. Eduardo Nunez doubled, Brandon Laird singled and Derek Jeter walked, all with one out. Grandson popped out, but Teixeira's 38th homer of the year, a shot to left-center on a 1-0 pitch made it 5-0.
Both teams stranded a runner at third in the following frame and Teixeira homered to left in the fourth. Andruw Jones went deep tight to the line in left with one out in the fifth against Juan Cruz.
The season series ended 9-9...The Rays' 91 wins are the most ever by a team that started the season 1-8. They have won 30 consecutive games when scoring five runs or more...The Yankees topped the majors with 222 homers.