The final Sunday of the 2011 regular season set the stage for the final 3 games to determine the AL Wild Card. The Rays led by Wade Davis and 4 home runs (including an inside the park homer by Ben Zobrist) defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 5-2. The Rays victory combined with a Yankee 6-2 victory over the Red Sox in the first game of a day-night doubleheader moved the Rays to within 1/2 game of the Red Sox for the Wild Card. The nightcap saw the Red Sox and Yankees battle for 14 innings until Joe Girardi turned to Scott Proctor with 1-out and nobody on. Proctor gave up a single to Darnell MacDonald and issued a walk to Marco Scutaro before retiring Jarrod Saltalamacchia for the second out. Jacoby Ellsbury stepped to the plate and drilled a 1-0 pitch for a 3-run homer and Felix Doubront retired the Yankees to save the 7-4 victory for Boston who maintained a 1-game advantage over the Rays with 3 games to play.
The Rays were at home to host the New York Yankees and the Red Sox traveled to Baltimore to take on an Orioles team that had embraced the role of spoiler in the month of September. Both series will be remembered for the dramatic plays and the eventual results. Since these final three games of the season are far and away the greatest victories of the season they have been left out of the Rays Victory of the Month series. Instead, a series of plays have been chosen to be voted on as the most important play of the respective series.Deciding which play in the series was the most dramatic, had the most impact or was the most important is a very difficult task.
The final plays of the month will be revealed shortly. The links are included below in case you haven't voted as of yet or just want to take a look back at the Rays 2011 season.
The Rays Game of the Month: June (HERE)
The Rays Game of the Month: July (HERE)
The Rays Game of the Month: August (HERE)
The Rays Game of the Month: September Part One (HERE)
Game Highlights After the Jump:
GAME 160: Monday, September 26, 2011
The week couldn't of started any better for the Rays who received another strong outing by James Shields who came within 1-out of recording his 12th complete game of the season. He went 8.2 innings giving up 2R/2ER on 6 hits while striking out 4 and walking 3. Joe Maddon gave Shields the opportunity to get the complete game and it appeared as if it was going to happen after he got Jorge Posada to bounce into a double play but after he walked Eric Chavez Maddon went and got Kyle Farnsworth to get the final out.
Meanwhile up in Camden Yards the Red Sox had Josh Beckett on the mound versus Tommy Hunter. The Red Sox jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the 2nd inning thanks to a Jacoby Ellsbury double. The Orioles responded in the bottom of a second to tie the game on a Matt Wieters solo homer. The Red Sox handed Josh Beckett a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning on a Josh Reddick solo homer. The Orioles tied the game in the bottom of the fifth inning on a Chris Davis RBI single. The Orioles had runners at 1st and 2nd with 2-out when Chris Davis delivered a double to score the go-ahead run. Robert Andino came up with runners at 2nd and 3rd and sent a fly ball to deep center field. Jacoby Ellsbury seemed poised to catch the ball but as he ran into the wall the ball popped out of his glove and Andino raced around the bases for an inside the park homer and the Orioles had a 6-2 lead. The Red Sox threatened in the top of the 9th and pushed a run across but Jim Johnson protected the 6-3 victory.
With the Rays victory and the Red Sox loss the Rays had caught the Red Sox in the Wild Card Race. The Red Sox had held a 10 game lead on August 17th and became the first Wild Card team to ever lose a double digit lead.
GAME 161: Tuesday, September 26 ,2011
Ben Zobrist gave the Rays a 2-0 lead with a 2-run homer off Bartolo Colon in the 2nd inning. Russell Martin hit a solo homer in the 3rd inning to cut the lead in half and the Yankees tied it up at 2-2 on a double play groundout by Curtis Granderson in the 5th.
The 6th inning will go down as one of the most exciting innings in Rays team history. Jeremy Hellickson walked Alex Rodriguez to start the inning and advanced to 3rd on an RBI double by Mark Teixeira. Nick Swisher doubled to deep centerfield scoring Alex Rodriguez to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead but inexplicably Mark Teixeira went back to 2nd base to tag and was held up at 3rd base. With the runners at 2nd and 3rd base and nobody out Joe Maddon elected to intentionally walk Jorge Posada to face Russell Martin. With the Yankees threatening to blow the game wide open and the Rays season hanging in the balance the most improbable event happened. Russell Martin rolled over and sent a groundball to Evan Longoria who completed a 5-4-3 double play....a play so spectacular that even mild mannered Jeremy Hellickson showed a great deal of emotion.
The Rays entered the bottom of the 7th inning still trailing 3-2 and Joe Girardi went to Rafael Soriano to protect the lead. B.J. Upton walked to lead off the inning and then stole second base, Evan Longoria walked, and Matt Joyce sent a line drive home run to the seats in right. Brandon Gomes worked a scoreless eighth and Kyle Farnsworth worked a scoreless 9th to earn his 25th save of the year.
The Red Sox seemed to finally be getting the big break they needed when rookie catcher Ryan Lavarnay, starting due to injuries to Jason Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia belted two homers and drove in 4 runs in a 8-7 Red Sox victory.
Game 162: Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Their is not much more that can be written about the events that transpired at Tropicana Field and in Camden Yards. The events that transpired finished off a thrilling playoff push by the Rays and completed one of the biggest collapses by a ML team. The playoff scenario seemed all but settled with the Yankees holding a 7-0 lead in heading into the bottom of the eighth inning and the Red Sox leading 3-2 lead over the Orioles.
The first five Rays reached base to start the eighth inning. Boone Logan opened the inning by walking Johnny Damon, surrendering a double to Ben Zobrist, and hitting Casey Kotchman with a pitch. Logan was replaced by walked Sam Fuld (pinch hitting for Kelly Shoppach) to force in the Rays first run and hit Sean Rodriguez with a pitch t to force in the Rays second run. Ayala struck out Desmond Jennings for the first out and retired B.J. Upton on a sacrifice fly to cut the score to 7-3. Evan Longoria stood in with 2-on and 2-out and delivered a 3-run homer to cut the Yankees lead to 1.
The Rays still trailed 7-6 as the game moved to the bottom of the ninth inning. Cory Wade was in for the Yankees and retired Ben Zobrist on a fly out to centerfield and Casey Kotchman on a groundout to third. The Rays post-season hopes rested on the bat of Sam Fuld but Joe Maddon went to his bench and grabbed Dan Johnson to pinch hit. Johnson was an improbable choice to send to the plate with the season as he carried a slash line of .108/.178/.157 to the plate with him. Johnson made Joe Maddon look like a genius by connecting on a 2-2 pitching and lining a game tying homer inside the right field foul pole.
The Red Sox held a 3-2 lead and were resuming play as the Rays and Yankees went into extra innings. The Rays received an elite level defensive play in the top of the 12th inning by Evan Longoria. Greg Golson led off the top of the 12th with a single and advanced to third on a single by Eric Chavez. With Golson, the go ahead run, 90 feet away Jorge Posada sent a ground ball to Evan Longoria who noticed that Golson had strayed too far off the bag and tagged him out. Jake McGee struck out Chris Dickerson for the second out and worked out of the inning by getting Brett Gardner to ground out to 2nd.
While the Rays were holding off the Yankee rally in the top of the 12th the Orioles were mounting a rally against Jonathon Papelbon. The Red Sox held a 3-2 lead and Papelbon appeared to have his good stuff as he struck out Adam Jones and Mark Reynolds to start the 9th. Papelbon gave up a double to Chris Davis to put the tying run in scoring position. Nolan Reimold chased Chris Davis home with the tying run on a ground rule double to right. Robert Andino hit a sinking line drive to Carl Crawford in left which he attempted to make a sliding catch. The ball popped out of his glove and Reimold raced around to score the game winning run.
The Rays game remained tied until the bottom of the 12th. Scott Proctor had held the Rays scoreless for 2.2 innings with Evan Longoria stepping to the plate. With the count 1-1 the scoreboard flashed the Orioles victory over the Red Sox. As the crowd erupted in joy Evan Longoria stepped out of the box to gather his breath. Longoria stepped back into the box and worked the count to 2-2 before taking Proctor's sixth pitch over the short wall in left field catapulting the Rays into the post-season.
And of course, we will always have the Dan Shaughnessy clip to snicker at.