On September 1st, 2011 the Boston Red Sox had a 9 game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East and the season was winding down.
Skip forward a few weeks to September 26th. The Rays were beginning a crucial home series against the New York Yankees. During the previous weeks, the Yankees had overtaken the Red Sox atop of the East and clinched the division title on the 21st. The Red Sox had only won 6 games during that span; meanwhile, the Rays had caught up to them and were only 1 game back for the AL wild card.
The Red Sox were beginning a 3-game series in Baltimore against the Orioles and the Rays were playing New York at Tropicana Field.
Jennings Catch and Shields Dominance
(September 26th, 2011)
James Shields went to the mound for the Rays in the first game of this very important series. Shields was having a remarkable season, showing that 2010 was a down year and that he was worthy of Cy Young Award consideration. He was opposed by Hector Noesi, who was making a spot start for Joe Girardi's Yankees.
Shields started out the game strong, striking out both Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson for the first 2 outs of the game. Then in stepped Robinson Cano, who had very good success off of Shields, batting around .380 off him in over 50 at-bats. With a 1-1 pitch, Cano destroyed a ball to straightaway center that hit off the facade of the Batter's Eye Restaurant for his 28th homer of the year, giving the Yankees an early 1-0 lead.
Shields got Alex Rodriguez to ground out to third for the final out of the inning, but the damage had been done.
In the bottom of the 1st, Desmond Jennings led off by not letting his bat leave his shoulder and watched 3 strikes go by for the 1st out of the inning. B.J. Upton he scorched 1-2 pitch for a line drive into right-center field. Curtis Granderson cut if off before it reached the warning track and got the ball in, but Upton slid in safe at 2nd with a double. Evan Longoria came to the plate with the chance to tie the game, and on the 2-0 pitch, Upton stole 3rd. Longoria walked on the next pitch, to bring up Ben Zobrist.
The count reached 3-2, when Zobrist ripped a groundball right to Jorge Posada at first, whose momentum carried him to the bag for the out. He then turn and fired to Russell Martin at home who scooped the low throw. Upton meanwhile took off for home, but didn't appeared to think that there'd be play. As he was nearing home, Martin received the throw and turned to tag Upton, who, instead of sliding, tried to place his foot on the plate. Martin tagged him as his foot simultaneously landed on home, he was called out by the home plate umpire for the final out of the inning.
The Yankees went down quietly in the 2nd, outside of a single by Martin that Reid Brignac made a tremendous diving stop on, but was late on the throw. In the bottom half, the Rays got a runner to 2nd with 1 out but failed to get a run across.
Brett Gardner led off the 3rd with a groundball up the middle for a leadoff single. Shields then walked Jeter on 4 pitches. Curtis Granderson flew out to left, so now James Shields' nemesis, Robinson Cano stepped up with runners on 1st and 2nd with one out. With a 2-1 pitch, Cano ripped a groundball through the right side of the infield. Gardner came around to score and Jeter advanced to 2nd, 2-0 Yankees.
Shields retired Alex Rodriguez on a popup that was an automatic out from the infield fly rule and a groundout to end the inning.
Reid Brignac led off the 3rd with a line drive though the right side for a single, followed by a Desmond Jennings walk after an eight pitch battle to bring B.J. Upton back up. With a 2-2 pitch, Upton chopped ball just out of the reach of Eric Chavez and up the left field line. Both runners came around to score and Upton went into 2nd with his second double to tie the game at 2-2.
Evan Longoria came up next and hit a hard line drive into left field for a base hit that advanced Upton to 3rd with 1 out. After Longoria's single, Noesi was replaced by Raul Valdez. The first batter to face Valdez would be Zobrist, who would strikeout. Johnny Damon came up to bat with runners on 1st and 3rd with 2 outs. On a 2-2 pitch, Damon hit a slow roller towards the right side, just out of the reach of a diving Cano and into right field to score Upton, also advancing Longoria to 3rd and gave the Rays a 3-2 lead. With the base hit, Damon tied Lou Gehrig on the all-time hits list with 2,721.
With Matt Joyce facing Valdez, Damon took off for 2nd. The 0-1 pitched bounced low and away, but Martin made a good pick and threw to 2nd. Damon stopped short of the base and headed back to first. Jeter received the throw and ran Damon back to first and tossed the ball to Posada, who tagged Damon out. Right after he applied the tag, Posada quickly got the ball and threw it home to nail Longoria at the plate for the final out of the inning.
James Shields allowed a 2-out double to Eduardo Nunez in the 4th, but got out of thanks to a soft flare to short from Brett Gardner.
In the bottom half of the inning, Joyce hit a deep fly ball down the right filed line, but Nunez was able to track it down. Casey Kotchman then grounded to first to bring up Kelly Shoppach. The count reached 3-2, when Valdez hung a curveball that Shoppach crushed on a line into the left field seats for a solo home run, making it 4-2 Rays.
Valdez struck out Brignac to end the inning.
Derek Jeter led off the top of the 5th against Shields, and on a 0-1 pitch, he put the barrel of the bat on the ball and sent it to deep left center field. Desmond Jennings got a good jump, though, and ran full speed at it. At the last second, Jennings stretched out his glove and made a tremendous catch on the track, the momentum of the ball taking him down to the ground and rolling towards the wall.
Shields set down the next batters quickly and ended the inning having only thrown 7 pitches.
Phil Hughes replaced Valdez in the bottom of the 5th. After 2 solidly hit balls that Curtis Granderson was able to track down in center, Hughes walked back-to-back hitters. Johnny Damon stepped up to the plate, but his at-bat would be delayed due to Martin arguing with the homeplate umpire. The umpire ejected Martin, but Damon popped out to 2nd to end the inning.
Shields was able to erase a leadoff single from A-Rod on a double play and ended the inning with a comebacker to the mound.
Matt Joyce led off the bottom of the 6th by lacing a double off the left field wall, but he would be stranded there as Hughes and new Yankees' pitcher, George Kontos, was able to shut the Rays down. At the end of 6 innings, the score was 4-2, Rays.
In the top of the 7th, Shields got the new Yankees catcher, Austin Romine to ground out for the 1st out of the inning. He then walked Nunez after a 7-pitch battle, only to promptly pick him off before the 1st pitch to the next batter.
Shields then retired Gardner on a flyball to end the top half of the 7th.
Desmond Jennings led off the bottom half with an infield popout, then Kontos proceeded to walk both Upton and Longoria. After that, Kontos was relieved by Luis Ayala, who also walked his first batter to load the bases with 1 out for Damon. On a 1-2 pitch, Damon lifted a ball to right field, that was plenty deep enough to score Upton from 3rd for the Rays' 5th run of the game, giving them a 3-run lead.
Ayala struck out Matt Joyce to end the inning.
Derek Jeter led off the 8th with a long fly ball to center that Upton was able to range back and make a nice over the shoulder catch on. Shields then ended the inning with a ground out followed by a strikeout.
Kotchman led off the bottom half of the inning with a single up the middle. Kelly Shoppach was up next, and on the 1st pitch appeared to have hit another HR, but it fell just short of the wall and was caught for the 1st out of the inning. The Rays would add another baserunner with a walk, but both would be stranded after a groundball from B.J. Upton.
Heading into the top of the 9th, the score is 5-2 Rays.
James Shields came out for the top of the 9th to go for his 12th complete game of the season. Alex Rodriguez led off and hit a hard grounder towards third base that Longoria tried to backhand, but failed to get it cleanly, having the ball bounce out of his glove for an error.
Shields was able to erase Rodriguez though, thanks to Jorge Posada's groundball that resulted in a double play.
Only 1 out away from the complete game, Shields walked Eric Chavez. After the walk, Joe Maddon came out of the dugout to a small chorus off boo's to remove Shields in favor of Kyle Farnsworth. Shields pitched a much needed dominant game and the crowd gave him an ovation as he left the field.
Shields Final Line: 8.2 IP / 6 Hits / 2 R / 2 ER / 3 BB / 4 K / 117 pitches (64 strikes/53 balls)
After Chavez moved to 2nd on defensive indifference, Farnsworth was able to get Jesus Montero to ground out to third the end the game and give the Rays a decisive victory over the Yankees. Shields was given his 16th win of the year and Farnsworth earned his 24th save.
A little while later, Boston lost to the Baltimore Orioles 6-3, meaning that the Rays and Red Sox were tied for the AL Wildcard with 2 games left in the regular season.
Full Game Below:
Triple Play plus Joyce's Clutch HR
(September 27th, 2011)
The Rays controlled their destiny with that win over New York. They were then tied atop of the AL Wildcard with Boston. Going to the mound for Tampa in Game 2 was Jeremy Hellickson, a potential AL rookie of the year candidate making his 29th start. The Yankees sent out Bartolo Colon, who made his return to the bigs leagues in 2011 after missing all of 2010.
Jeremy Hellickson started the game on a good note, retiring the side in order in the top of the 1st.
Desmond Jennings struckout to lead off the bottom half of the inning, but was followed a B.J. Upton walk. Unfortunately, Upton was quickly picked off before Colon delivered a pitch to the next batter.
Evan Longoria reached on an errant throw that Mark Teixeira failed to pick, but would be stranded after Matt Joyce popped out to end the inning.
Hellickson had another quiet inning in the 2nd, only allowing an infield single to Teixeira on a slow roller to short.
Johnny Damon led off the bottom of the 2nd with a line drive into right field, surpassing Lou Gehrig on the all-time hits list.
Ben Zobrist came up next and on a 1-2 pitch, he went down and mashed a ball high and deep to right field. Nick Swisher ranged back on it, but the ball sailed over the wall and a couple of rows deep into the seats to give the Rays a 2-0 lead and Zobrist his 20th HR of the year.
The next batter up was Sean Rodriguez, who grounded a ball up the middle for a base hit. Kelly Shoppach was now up and during his at-bat, Colon threw the ball away trying to pick off Rodriguez, allowing him to advance to 2nd on the error. Shoppach popped out and was followed by a fly out and a groundout to end the inning and strand Rodriguez on 3rd.
Russell Martin led off the top of the 3rd and on a 3-1 count. Hellickson grooved a fastball right down the middle that Martin smacked deep into the left field seats for his 18th HR, making it a 2-1 ball game.
Hellickson followed the HR by walking Brett Gardner on 4 pitches, then coaxed a pop fly from Nunez. Brett Gardner stole 2nd during Curtis Granderson's at-bat. Gardner would have been out, but the ball popped out of Brignac's glove after he applied the tag, allowing Gardner to be safe. Granderson would pop out on the infield, but would be followed by walks to Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez, Cano's was intentional.
Mark Teixeira stepped up now with the bases loaded and 2 outs in a one run game. Hellickson delivered his 1st pitch and Teixeira just missed it. Off the bat, it looked gone, but Joyce drifted back, near the edge of the track and made the catch, ending the threat.
B.J. Upton led off the bottom of the 3rd and on Colon's 1st pitch, he ripped a ball down the left field line for a leadoff double. Evan Longoria followed the double with a walk, but both players would be stranded after 2 infield popups and a strikeout.
Hellickson pitched a 1-2-3 top of the 4th for the first time since the 1st inning. The Rays also had a quiet 4th, as the only player to reach base was Reid Brignac on a single.
Brett Gardner led off the 5th, with a line drive into center for a leadoff single and was followed by Eduardo Nunez, who hit a groundball through the right side for another single, advancing Gardner to third with no outs for Curtis Granderson.
On a 2-2 pitch, Granderson scorched a groundball, right to Brignac who stepped on 2nd for the force and threw onto first to complete the double play. But the play allowed Gardner to score from 3rd to tie the game at 2-2.
Cano was the next batter up and on the first pitch, he ripped a line drive towards the right field wall. Matt Joyce ran back on it though and made a nice catch a few feet from the wall for the final out of the inning.
In the bottom of the 5th, the Rays had another single by Evan Longoria, but he would be the only batter to reach base.
Jeremy Hellickson walked Alex Rodriguez to start the 6th, and the walk was followed by double that Mark Teixeira ripped into right field. Nick Swisher now stepped up the plate with runners on 2nd and 3rd with none out and the chance to give the Yankees the lead, which he promptly did. With a 0-1 pitch, Swisher drove a ball deep into right center field that hit off the wall and Upton fielded on a hop and threw the ball back in. Rodriguez scored easily, but oddly, Teixeira was only able to make it to 3rd after staying at 2nd to see if Upton would catch the ball, but nonetheless, the Yankees had gained a 3-2 lead.
Hellickson intentionally walked Jorge Posada in hopes of turning a double play, loading the bases with none out and Russell Martin coming up to bat. Jim Hickey came out to talk to his young right hander.
After the mound conference, Hellickson was ready to face Martin. On the first pitch, Martin hit a soft groundball right towards third base. Longoria played it on the hop, with his foot already on the bag. He seemed to have trouble at first getting the ball from his glove, but was able to secure it and made a throw onto Zobrist at 2nd, who very quickly turned and threw the ball to Sean Rodriguez at 1st who made a long stretch and was able to catch the ball just before Martin slid into first, completing the triple play and getting Hellickson out of the jam. Hellickson showed a rare explosion of emotion.
Ben Zobrist led off the bottom of the 6th with a base hit and was followed by fly out from Sean Rodriguez. After the fly out, Colon left in favor of Cory Wade, who had spent spring training with the Rays and the majority of the season at Durham before being released in June. Wade got Kelly Shoppach to popout, but allowed a single to Brignac that advanced Zobrist to 3rd with two outs, but Desmond Jennings flew out to left to end the inning. Heading into the 7th, the game was 3-2, Yankees.
Jeremy Hellickson's night was done after 6 innings and Jake McGee came on to relieve the rookie. Brett Gardner led off and bunted a popup towards Rodriguez at 1st who caught it on the fly for the first out of the inning. That was followed by a single up the middle by Nunez, but McGee retired the next two batters to end New York's turn at bat.
The Rays fearsome closer from 2010, Rafael Soriano, came on for the bottom of the 7th as Girardi was turning to his dominant pen to close out the game for New York. Soriano walked Upton to lead off the inning, then Upton stole 2nd during Longoria's at bat, but that wouldn't matter as Longoria eventually walked after a 9-pitch battle.
Matt Joyce came up to face Soriano, who's first pitch missed for a ball. With his 2nd pitch, Soriano was trying to throw a back door slider, but it cut back to much and went over the center of the plate. Joyce was able to capitalize on the mistake and turn on the ball and send it on a line, deep to right field. Swisher ran back on it, but it sailed over the wall into the first row of seats for a 3-run HR to give the Rays a 5-3 lead.
Soriano was able to take down the next 3 batters he faced, getting some help on a nice play from Mark Teixeira at first off a scorched Ben Zobrist line drive, but the damage had been done and the Rays had gained the lead late in the game.
McGee came back out for the 8th and was dominant, striking 2 of the 3 batters he faced and setting down New York in order.
David Robertson replaced Soriano in the bottom of the 8th and hit Kelly Shoppach with a 3-2 pitch. Reid Brignac sacrificed Shoppach over, but was followed by a Desmond Jennings strikeout. After that, Robertson was replaced by Mariano Rivera, who would strikeout B.J. Upton to end the inning.
In the top of the 9th, Kyle Farnsworth came out to attempt his 25th save of the year against the bottom of the Yankees order. First up was Jorge Posada, whom he struck out on 3 pitches for the first out. Russell Martin was now up and on a 1-1 pitch, he lifted a fly ball to shallow center for an easy catch by Upton for the 2nd out. Brett Gardner was New York's last hope and after a 7-pitch battle, Gardner lifted a fly ball right to Jennings in left for the final out of the game giving the Rays the 5-3 victory.
Meanwhile, Boston won 8-7 in Baltimore to preserve the tie atop of the wildcard, which would result in a thrilling and incredible night of baseball on September 28th, 2011.
Full Game Below: