ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 28: The Tampa Bay Rays celebrate their win over the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field on September 28, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

AL Wild Card Race: Rays Pull Off Shocking Comeback To Punch Playoff Ticket

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Rays 8, Yankees 7: Tampa Takes Wild Card With Wild Finish

St. Petersburg, FL (Sports Network) - 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.

The crowd went crazy a few minutes earlier after learning the O's scored twice in the ninth off usually-solid closer Jonathan Papelbon to beat the Red Sox, 4-3.

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.

Game Notes

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.

Final - 9.28.2011 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 R H E
New York Yankees 1 4 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 7 9 1
Tampa Bay Rays 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 6 1 0 0 1 8 10 1
WP: Jake McGee (5 - 2)
LP: Scott Proctor (0 - 3)

Complete Coverage >


Yankees At Rays, Game 162: Will These Be The Real Yankees? Probably Not

The Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox head into the final day of the 2011 MLB regular season tied for the American League Wild Card playoff berth. The American League East champion New York Yankees, by virtue of being Tampa Bay's opponent Wednesday night in the regular-season finale (7:10 p.m. ET, YES/ESPN) find themselves smack dab in the middle of the fray.

This puts Red Sox Nation on the most uncomfortable of all imaginable fences. Boston is on the verge of a historic collapse, having led the Wild Card standings by nine games when the month of September began. Now, a discouraged Red Sox Nation has to root for the hated Yankees to lend them a hand.

If you are manager Joe Girardi and the Yankees, however, how caught up in all of this Wild Card hysteria should you get? The Yankees open the American League Division Series on Friday against either the Detroit Tigers or Texas Rangers. That will also be determined Wednesday night.

As of Wednesday morning, Girardi did not even know who his starting pitcher would be for the season-finale against the Rays. Whoever it turns out to be, it isn't likely to be one of the Yankees' front-line pitchers. For the most part, Wednesday night figures to be a parade of prospects and second-line guys who won't be part of the team's postseason roster.

Girardi also figures to post a 'B List' lineup without most of his regulars. Derek Jeter sits at .298 entering the final game of the season and you know the Captain would love a hit or two to get his average for the season to .300. You wonder if Jeter might get a first-inning at-bat to see if he can get to .300, then get removed from the game. Otherwise, it is entirely possible that -- much to the chagrin of the Red Sox and probably Major League Baseball -- the Yankees could post a lineup tonight with no regular players in it.

Really, who could blame Girardi if that is what he does. Tonight's games mean everything to the Rays and Red Sox. The only important thing for the Yankees, though, is getting through the finale without getting any key players hurt.


Rays 5, Yankees 3: Triple Play, Late HR Keep Tampa Bay Tied In Wild Card Race

St. Petersburg, FL (Sports Network) - A triple play in the sixth inning kept the Rays from getting too far behind, and Matt Joyce's seventh-inning homer put them in front.

Both plays likely saved their season.

Joyce's three-run blast was the difference as Tampa Bay defeated the New York Yankees, 5-3, to stay tied on top of the race for the American League wild card berth.

"That was probably one of the most exciting times you could have on the baseball field," Joyce said.

Because of Boston's 8-7 defeat of Baltimore on Tuesday, the Rays and Red Sox remained even for the lead with one game to go.

A September-long slump by the Red Sox allowed the Rays to erase a nine-game deficit and have a chance to make the postseason. If the teams finish tied, there would be a one-game playoff Thursday at Tropicana Field.

After pulling even Monday, Tampa Bay made the most of its opportunity Tuesday. Ben Zobrist hit a two-run homer and, thanks to the triple play, starter Jeremy Hellickson limited the Yankees to three runs in six innings.

It was a 2-2 game entering the top of the sixth, when Alex Rodriguez led off with a walk and went to third on Mark Teixeira's double, setting the stage for a potentially big rally.

Nick Swisher then hit a long fly ball to center, but both runners held because it hung in the air. By the time the ball bounced in at the base of the fence, only Rodriguez could score.

Still, the play left runners on second and third, and an intentional walk to Jorge Posada loaded the bases.

Russell Martin followed by hitting a grounder tight to the line toward third base. Evan Longoria grabbed it as he stepped on the bag, fired to Zobrist for the second out, and Zobrist's relay to Sean Rodriguez was in time to beat Martin, who slid in head-first, to complete the play and got the Rays out of the jam.

The limited damage kept Tampa Bay in the game, and Joyce delivered the big blow an inning later.

Rafael Soriano (2-3) began the inning and walked B.J. Upton, who stole second before Longoria walked.

"It was the walks that killed him tonight," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "But if you're going to have it, get it out of the way tonight. That's for sure."

The Yankees reliever then left a 1-0 cutter up and over the plate, and Joyce crushed it to right to put the Rays in front. Their bullpen kept the lead safe. Brandon Gomes worked a flawless eighth and Kyle Farnsworth pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 25th save, while Jake McGee (4-2) got the win for a scoreless seventh.

Zobrist put the Rays on the board in the second inning, which Johnny Damon began with a single to move past Hall of Famer and Yankees great Lou Gehrig on the all-time hits list. Prior to the hit, they were tied for 57th with 2,721.

Yankees starter Bartolo Colon had Zobrist in a 1-2 count but dealt a fastball to the bottom inside corner of the zone, and Zobrist lofted it over the right field fence.

But those were the only runs Colon yielded in 5 1/3 innings, allowing the Yankees to tie the game. Martin homered to lead off the third and Brett Gardner scored on a double play grounder in the fifth.

Game Notes

The triple play was the third in Rays history, and first since September 2, 2006 against the Seattle Mariners at Tropicana Field...Colon allowed seven hits and walked two, while striking out three...Hellickson gave up six hits, walked five and fanned one...Zobrist's homer was his 20th of the season, the second time in his career he's reached that plateau. He hit 27 homers in 2009...No team has ever overcome a nine-game deficit in September to reach the postseason...Damon finished 1-for-4, and is two hits shy of tying Roberto Alomar...The Rays have won 29 consecutive games when scoring at least five runs.

Final - 9.27.2011 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
New York Yankees 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 3 7 2
Tampa Bay Rays 0 2 0 0 0 0 3 0 X 5 9 0
WP: Jake McGee (4 - 2)
SV: Kyle Farnsworth (25)
LP: Rafael Soriano (2 - 3)

Complete Coverage >


AL Wild Card Race: Yankees Can Help Push Red Sox Off The Cliff

Admit it, New York Yankees fans. It would be sort of awesome if the Yankees were to lose to the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday night and Wednesday night, and the Boston Red Sox lost at least once to the Baltimore Orioles in those two games.

That would knock the staggering Red Sox out of the American League Wild Card spot, and would be the biggest collapse ever by a team leading the Wild Card race on Sept. 1. On that date Boston held a nine-game lead over Tampa Bay. Boston is a stunningly awful 6-19 this month.

The Yankees have, of course, already clinched the American League East title. They are playing this final series of the season to set themselves up for the American League Division Series, which begins Friday.

Over the weekend the Yankees took three of four from Boston, ensuring that the Wild Card race would come down to these final games of the season. Hard to say if it means anything to the players, but you know darn well that the fan base would love to see the Yankees help the Red Sox finish off a historic collapse.

Current Series

Rays lead the series 1-0

Mon 09/26 WP: James Shields (16 - 12)
SV: Kyle Farnsworth
LP: Hector Noesi (2 - 2)
2 - 5 loss
Wed 09/28 7:10 PM EDT


Rays 5, Yankees 2: New York Continues To Stick It To Boston

St. Petersburg, FL (Sports Network) - The Tampa Bay Rays keep doing their part to win the AL wild card, but their fate is also riding on games being played 1,000 miles away.

Like it has so many times over the past few weeks, everything went their way again.

The Rays tied Boston for the wild card lead Monday night, beating the New York Yankees 5-2 behind eight-plus innings from James Shields and a couple of hits from B.J. Upton, including a two-run double.

Tampa Bay entered the game trailing Boston by one game for the AL wild card lead and pulled even after the Red Sox lost to the Orioles in Baltimore.

The games finished within moments of each other -- Kyle Farnsworth got Jesus Montero to ground out, ending Tampa Bay's win, and the Rays were able to watch Jed Lowrie strike out to end Boston's 6-3 loss.

"The guys are into it," said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon.

Indeed, on the same day Major League Baseball worked out what would happen in the event of a tie for the AL and NL wild card, the Rays and Red Sox conspired to give them exactly that.

Leaving both teams with what amounts to a two-game season.

The Rays will play their games against the AL East-champion Yankees, while Boston remains in Baltimore to finish its season.

The Red Sox would seem to have an advantage playing the basement-dwelling Orioles, but they've had trouble getting out of their own way during a 6-19 September.

Tampa Bay, meanwhile, has won four of its last five to pull even in a race that looked weeks ago like it would be won by someone else.

"It's definitely an exciting time for us," said catcher Kelly Shoppach, who hit a solo homer in the fourth inning for a 4-2 lead.

Shields (16-12) was one out from a complete game when Maddon pulled him for Kyle Farnsworth with a runner on first.

The 29-year-old righty snapped a personal two-game losing streak, giving up six hits and three walks with four strikeouts, and the Rays won despite having two runners thrown out at home plate on double plays in the first three innings.

Rays left fielder Desmond Jennings ran down a Derek Jeter fly ball and made a highlight-reel diving catch at the warning track for the first out of the fifth inning. Sliding toward the wall, Jennings kept control of the ball as it snow-coned toward the top of his glove.

"One of the best (catches) I've seen," said teammate Evan Longoria.

Robinson Cano hit a solo homer in the first inning and an RBI single in the third for the Yankees, who did the Rays a favor by beating Boston in the first two games of their weekend series. The Red Sox won Sunday's doubleheader nightcap on Jacoby Ellsbury's three-run homer in the 14th.

The Yankees won three of four against the Rays last week, including a doubleheader sweep on Wednesday that locked up their 17th AL East title. They took a 1-0 lead Monday on Robinson Cano's two-out homer in the first inning, his 28th of the season.

Upton doubled with one down in the bottom of the inning and had a chance to tie the game for Tampa Bay after stealing third base. But he didn't slide to beat a throw home after Ben Zobrist's grounder and was tagged out easily on an inning-ending double play.

Brett Gardner singled to lead off the third and scored later on Cano's one-out single through the right side to make it 2-0. But the Rays took the lead in the bottom of the inning.

Upton tied the game with one swing, knocking his second double of the game down the third base line. He went to third on Longoria's single, which knocked rookie Hector Noesi (2-2) out of the game, and scored on Johnny Damon's base hit off reliever Raul Valdes for a 3-2 edge.

Damon was caught in a rundown trying to steal second, and the Yankees also got Longoria sliding at home plate for a strange double play to end the inning.

Shoppach belted his 11th homer of the season in the fourth to make it 4-2. Upton, Longoria and Zobrist drew three straight walks in the seventh and Damon hit a sacrifice fly to score the last run.

Noesi was making his second career MLB start -- he made his first against the Rays last Wednesday -- and allowed three runs on five hits in two-plus innings.

"We're playing to win," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I've got Bartolo (Colon) tomorrow and a loaded bullpen tomorrow. We're playing to win games, but I also have to pick time when I have to use my relievers. The one thing I don't want them to do is if you get in some long games Friday and Saturday I have to make sure they can go multiple innings."

Game Notes

Yankees catcher Russell Martin was ejected after exchanging words with home plate umpire Paul Schrieber in the fifth inning...Noesi was making another spot start in place of Phil Hughes, who has had back spasms.

Final - 9.26.2011 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
New York Yankees 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 6 0
Tampa Bay Rays 0 0 3 1 0 0 1 0 X 5 9 1
WP: James Shields (16 - 12)
SV: Kyle Farnsworth (24)
LP: Hector Noesi (2 - 2)

Complete Coverage >

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