Wednesday night was possibly the greatest regular season night ever in the American League. It might have been the greatest regular season night in the history of baseball, period. It was all capped off by a walk-off home run by Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays, a home run that gave the Rays an 8-7 victory over the New York Yankees after 12 innings. It came just minutes after the Boston Red Sox collapsed in the ninth inning. The A.L. playoff picture went from advantage Sox, to uncertainty, to the Rays winning a Wild Card berth in under 30 minutes.
Of course, it wasn't just about Jonathan Papelbon giving the game away for the Sox or Longoria's walk-off. The path to that moment for the Rays was the most improbable part. Down 7-0 in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Rays rallied for six runs, giving themselves a chance in the ninth. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, down to their last out of the season, Dan Johnson stepped to the plate. Johnson, a man with a sub-.300 on-base percentage and one home run in just 26 plate appearances to that point in 2011, hit a game-tying solo home run. From there, the Rays had to win. They'd already done the difficult (and highly improbable) part.
Tampa Bay Rays blog DRaysBay summed up the moment nicely.
What a roller coaster ride. What an experience. I can't wait for playoff baseball, but I also don't think anything can come quite as close to perfection as this game. The Rays were nine games out in the beginning of September, but they played .630 ball down the stretch against primarily really good teams: seven against the Yankees, seven against the Red Sox, and four against the Rangers.
As cool as this game was, the point at the end is just as important as the final day of the season. The Rays had a tough September schedule and they played great through that stretch. They deserve to be in the playoffs, and they now look ahead to a series against the Texas Rangers.