The Tampa Bay Rays are headed to the playoffs and the Red Sox are heading home.
One of the most incredible sequences in the history of baseball concluded with a Jonathan Papelbon blown save in Baltimore and an Evan Longoria line drive that snuck over the left field fence five minutes later to set off bedlam at Tropicana Field as the Rays won 8-7 in 12 innings.
The Rays rallied from a 7-0 deficit with six runs in the eighth, including a three run bomb by Longoria, and then the tying run in the ninth courtesy of a Dan Johnson home run with two outs to send the game into extra innings.
From there the game seemed to be something of a formality as Yankees manager Joe Girardi stuck with reliever Scott Proctor. But, Proctor showed poise and was able to keep the Rays off the scoreboard for 2.2 innings and gave the Yankees their best chance in the top of the 12th.
With nobody out, the Yankees had runners on the corners and seemed assured of getting at least one run across, but Greg Golson was caught in no mans land on a slow roller down the third baseline. Undecided on whether to run home or go back to third Golson was tagged out and the major crisis was averted for the Rays. Reliever Brandon Gomes quickly got the final two outs to set up Longoria’s heroics in the bottom of the inning.
The win coupled with a Red Sox meltdown 500 miles north in Baltimore allowed the Rays to clinch one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history. The Rays trailed the Sox by nine games just four weeks ago and rallied to win the Wild Card outright with no playoff needed.
The Rays will open the playoffs in Texas against the defending American League Champion Rangers on Friday.