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Rays Game of the Year: A Feast of Great Moments on Thanksgiving

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The 2011 Rays season will be remembered as one of the most dramatic, most satisfying, and most unbelievable seasons in baseball history. It seems like years ago that Manny and Johnny were doing their press conference and there was an energy surrounding the Rays that hadn't been felt during the winter months before. Fan fest was a rip roaring success as it was reported by BayNews9 that over 25,000 people attended. All that optimism and energy seemed to dissipate in the first 8 games of the season. Certainly, the team going 1-7 over the first 8 games would put a buzz kill on a lot of enthusiasm but pile on an oblique injury to Evan Longoria (out for a month) and the retirement of Manny Ramirez after a 3rd failed drug test and the fan base was firmly in the midst of dealing with the stages of grief.

The Rays rebounded to have a winning month in April with a record of 15-12 and followed that up with a winning May (14-13) and June (16-11). The Rays seemed to fall out of the playoff hunt by having a losing July (11-15). Despite going 18-10 in August the Rays still were 7.5 games out of the Wild Card on September 1st but they continued to win in September and pressured the Red Sox to keep pace but the Red Sox free fall continued.

The fight and claw model and Red Sox collapse model were best defined in Game #162 for each team. The Rays down 7-0 in the 8th inning fought their way back to win 8-7 and the Red Sox were unable to protect a 1-run lead against the Orioles. The timing couldn't of been better as a mere three minutes after Carl Crawford was unable to field a line drive single off the bat of Robert Andino the Rays were elevated into the post season thanks to a home run by Evan Longoria.

The results of the Plays of the Month polls are presented below and the highlights of each game are provided after the jump. As you are waiting for the feast to hit the table or passing time prior to the traditional NFL kickoff, or are just looking for a baseball fix in November take a moment to look back over the plays and vote on which play you best remember and comment on your thoughts on the 2011 season. Did you ever give up hope? Were you befuddled when the Rays didn't sell off their players at either trade deadline? Was there one play (even if not on the list) that reeled you back in?

In closing, I hope that everyone has enjoyed reliving these games in the Game of the Month series as much as I have in putting them together. Let's hope that 2012 brings just as many more exciting moments and that we can add the Plays of the Post Season to this series concluding with a WS Victory.

The Game of the Month of April was the 16-6 drubbing of the Red Sox in which the Legend of Sam Fuld was born. The Fuld game received 47.7% of the votes (135 out of 283). The runner-up was Ben Zobrist 10 RBI game against the Twins which received 28.3% of the votes (80 out of 283).

The Game of the Month of May was James Shields 13K complete game shutout over the Florida Marlins. The Shields CGSO received 44.7% of the votes (114 out of 255). The runner up was the 5-run 6th inning outburst to come from behind to beat the New York Yankees 6-5 which received 25.8% of the votes (80 out of 255).

The Game of the Month of June was James Shields complete game shutout over the Boston Red Sox. The Shields CGSO received 49.4% (89 out of 180 votes). The runner up was James Shields 5-1 complete game victory over the Houston Astros which received 17.7% of the votes (32 out of 180).

The Game of the Month of July was Ben Zobrist Grand Slam leading the Rays to a 9-6 victory over the Red Sox. The Zobrist grand slam game received 38.6% of the votes (59 out of 153). The runner up was James Shields outing to defeat C.C. Sabathia and the Yankees 2-1 which received 32.2% of the votes (50 out of 155).

The Game of the Month of August was Sam Fuld's wild trip around the bases as the Rays came back from 4 down in the bottom of the ninth to defeat the Royals 8-7. The Sam Fuld play received 62.7% of the votes (104 out of 166). The runner up was the Rays coming back in the 10th, 11th, and 12th innings to win which received 22.96% of the votes (32 out of 166).

The Game of the Month of September only included the games leading up to the final series against the Yankees. The winning game was Matt Moore's dominating first ML Start in which he fanned 11 Yankees in 5 scoreless innings of work. The Moore game received 48.8% of the votes (80 out of 164). The runner up was Evan Longoria's walk off blast to defeat the Red Sox 6-5 in 11 innings which received 17.7% of the votes (29 out of 164).

This series concluded with a Play of the Final Series which included plays from both the Tampa Bay vs New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox vs the Baltimore Orioles. The winning play was Dan Johnson's game tying home run in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings and keep the playoff hopes alive. The Johnson home run received 56.8% of the votes (179 of 315). The runner up was Evan Longoria's walk off home run to put the Rays into the post-season which received 24.1% of the votes (76 out of 315).

April, 11, 2011: Rays pummel Red Sox and a legend is born.

The Rays traveled to Boston with a record of 1-7 and were in last place in the A.L. East. The Rays trailed the Red Sox who had struggled out of the gate and had a record of 2-8. The game was to mark the first time the Rays faced former Ray Carl Crawford who had got off to a horrible start posting a .132 average (5 for 38). Carl Crawford did have two hits on the night for the Red Sox but the evening belonged to Sam Fuld. Fuld went 4-6 with 3 RBI and 3 runs scored. He had 11 total bases on two doubles, a triple, and a home run. He also made an outstanding grab in left field to rob Dustin Pedroia of extra bases. Jeremy Hellickson, making his first ever start at Fenway Park, was provided with plenty of run support as the Rays battered Red Sox pitching en route to a 16-5 victory.

May 22, 2011: James Shields with a complete game shut out while striking out 13 as Rays defeat Marlins 3-0.

James Shields continued to roll as he pitches another complete game shut out on 3 hits while striking out 13 (tying the club record) and walking 0. He made 126 pitches in the south Florida heat and the victory helped the Rays avoid a sweep at the hands of the Marlins. Shields even contributed to the offense by driving in his first ever RBI on a bases loaded groundout in the top of the second inning.

June 14, 2011: James Shields hurls complete game shutout as Rays defeat Red Sox 4-0.

The Rays were returning home from an 11 game road trip through Seattle, Anaheim, Baltimore, and a single game in Detroit. The Rays finished the road trip with a 6-5 record after losing 3 of the first 4 to the Seattle Mariners. The Rays returning home coincided with the return of Carl Crawford to Tropicana Field for the first time as a member of the Red Sox. James Shields faced Carl Crawford with 2-out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the first and got Crawford to groundout to Casey Kotchman at first. Shields worked into trouble several more times but was able to induce three inning ending double play balls on his way to a complete game shutout. He surrendered only 5 hits while striking out 5 and walking 3.

July 15th: Zobrist Grand Slam and Rays late offense leads Rays to a 9-6 victory over the Red Sox.

Joe Maddon delivered the "take it one game at a time speech" to the team as the Rays prepared for their first game after the all-star break as they were taking on the Red Sox who came to town on a 6 game winning streak . The Rays jumped out to an early 5-1 lead on a Grand Slam off the bat of Ben Zobrist. The offense tallied 11 hits and 9 runs as they defeated the Red Sox 9-6.

August 10th: Sam Fuld's trip around the bases caps a wild 9th as the Rays walk-off with a 8-7 victory.

This game appeared to be headed for the loss column after Melky Cabrera hit a 3 run homer off Rays reliever Jake McGee to give the Royals a 7-3 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth. The inning began with singles by Matt Joyce and Johnny Damon off Royals reliever Aaron Crowe who was replaced by Royals closer Joakim Soria. Evan Longoria greeted Soria with a run scoring double to cut the lead to 7-4. The Rays cut the lead to 7-6 on a Ben Zobrist ground out which scored Johnny Damon and a Casey Kotchman single which scored Evan Longoria. B.J. Uptonstruck out swinging to bring Sam Fuld to the plate with a runner at 1st and 2-out. Fuld lined a RBI triple to the gap in right center to score the tying run and scored the winning run when the relay throw skipped by the third baseman.

September 22: Matt Moore K's 11 Yankees in 5 scoreless innings as Rays defeat Yankees 15-7.

Matt Moore made his first career start and dominated the Yankees over 5 shutout innings while walking 1 and striking out 11. The offense gave Moore a 3-0 lead in the first and added runs in each of the first five innings to give the Rays a 13-0 lead. The Yankees bats came alive after Moore departed putting up 7 runs over the final 4 innings in falling to the Rays 15-7. The victory moved the Rays to 2 games behind the Red Sox in the race for the Wild Card.

HONORARY GAME 162: Dan Johnson Pinch Hit Homer Keeps Rays Playoff Hopes Alive

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.