Stuck in a deep nine-game hole in early September, the Tampa Bay Rays now saw themselves down by seven runs on the final day of the regular season on Wednesday. Facing a wave of Yankee pitchers, beginning with a two-inning stint by rookie Dellin Betances, the Rays somehow, someway, made a comeback for the ages.
All seemed hopeless, though, even before the eighth inning--the Rays only got two hits. But, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the Rays ultimately shined when it mattered most, putting TWO division rivals, the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, to bed.
Call it a comeback--an epic one to say the least. But, knowing how far the Rays had to climb, one could dub it a miracle.
Who were the miracle men? It boils down to this short list:
Fast forward to the eighth inning. Rays are down only 7-3, so a comeback is at least in sight. Evan Longoria, team leader in home runs at that point with 29, does what any good hitter does with men on base. Longoria belts a homer that now narrows the Yankees lead to just one run. That gave way to some momentum for the Rays to tie and go to extras.
But, the ultimate spotlight on Longoria came in the bottom of the 12th inning when the star found himself in a 2-2 count. In a matter of minutes after the Red Sox's collapse, Longoria smacks a laser solo shot off of the Yankees' Scott Proctor to put the game in the record books.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Evan Longoria is only the second player in major-league history to hit a walk-off home run in his team's final game of the regular season and clinch a postseason berth for his club. The only other player to do that was Bobby Thomson with his shot heard 'round the world against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951.
Does this make Longoria a viable MVP candidate? Hmmm...
Pinch-hitter Dan Johnson saved the Rays with a two-out, two-strike solo home run in the ninth that allowed the game to extend to extra innings, paving the way for Longoria's finish.
Before his homer, Johnson had one home run for the entire season.
But, this one mattered. It was only the 5th such home run in franchise history, and the first coming in the month of September.
Yes, the coach had as much to do with this as the players. When the Rays were down nine with a few of the season left, many most likely wrote them off. But, up to and including Wednesday, Maddon most likely had a positive effect on his team. The Rays believed in their ability to make a comeback, but to have that belief would require some motivation from the managerial side of things. Maddon is charismatic enough in that area and as much credit should be given to him, motivating his team during every team meeting from early September on, enough to get back to the playoffs.