Even in the darkest of nights the assurance of light is only hours away. In baseball terms this can feel like months and in April we reached the 10 year mark of the never-ending eclipse. Those old feelings began to creep back upon this five game losing streak, as they did during the seven game losing streak prior to the all-star break, but in the end we were again reminded that this is not 1998, or 2002, or 2006, but 2008.
With Scott Kazmir on the mound the Rays fell behind almost immediately 1-0. A fourth inning rally placed them ahead 3-1 and things would remain that way until a Mike Lowell homerun cut the lead to one. In the eight Dan Wheeler would face Jason Bay after walking Kevin Youkilis. A gut punch awaited on the other end of a Wheeler pitch that sailed into the Green Monster seats. 4-3. This was how we were losing first place in September, this was how it was going to be.
Jonathan Papelbon entered and amidst the claps and cheers Dan Johnson stepped to the plate fresh off of the plane from Durham. Here he was, in the middle of a pennant race when a day ago he was worried about the Governor's Cup. Johnson worked the count to 3-0 before Papelbon caught up. At 3-2 Dan Johnson took the biggest swing in his life and connected, sending the cowhide somewhere over the small fence in right-center.
I can only imagine his thought process, to which I will place this thought: "HOLY FUCKING SHIT!" As he touched home the scoreboard operator woefully changed the three into a four. Following an out Fernando Perez stepped to the plate. The man who, as we know, recites The Iliad for fun, here he was, facing Jonathan Goddamn Papelbon in the biggest game in Rays history.
The man of the epic battle delivered a courageous stab, delivering the ball into the monster of left. A dent in the nation. Dioner Navarro would bring Fernie home, and the Rays would take a 5-4 lead into the bottom of the 9th.
Troy Percival, the man under the most heat, although deservedly, ran in. Only after a shaky leadoff walk to Mark Kotsay did Percival unflinchingly strike Jason Varitek out, induce a flyball out from David Ortiz, and with pinch runner Jacoby Ellsbury standing on third force Coco Crisp into an uppercut that allowed Akinori Iwamura to grasp the final out in this amazing ballgame.
For all of those that believe there's something "different" about September, well, guess what, there's something different about these Rays too, and they simply aren't going away.