Welcome to the Rays Tank, where the beat goes on and the beatings continue until morale improves. There are a few contenders for the greatest regular season day ever. The shot heard round the world and Bucky Bleeping Dent will occasionally get some love, but I'd argue that 1) those should really be considered post-season games, and 2) because of the scope of it -- the multiple locales and levels involved -- Game 162 beats them both on merits anyway. It's not even all that close.
Setting the Stage
2011 was the final year only one Wild Card from each league was admitted to October baseball, and as the calendars turned to September, it was pretty clear who that was going to be. In the NL, though the Braves were 6 1/2 off the NL East lead, they were up on the Cards by 8 1/2 games in the Wild Card. And the only question in the AL was whether the Red Sox would win the East with the Yankees as the Wild Card, or vice versa. The Rays were an afterthought, nine games back of the Boston and 8 1/2 behind New York.
Fried Chicken and Beer
My, how things changed in just a month. Coming into the final game of the season, the Red Sox had gone just 7-19 during September, thanks to fried chicken and beer. This allowed a solid but not exactly red-hot 16-10 so-far-September from the Rays to close the gap. Reminder: This is the same Rays team that started the season 1-8, that had been climbing all year to get back into it. Their longest winning streak was five games, which they had managed twice. Now, winners of their last four, they would need a third such streak to bring this one home.
In the Senior Circuit, the collapse of the Braves was almost as impressive. Winners of just eight of their last 26, they were caught by the surging Cardinals, whose mediocre season was saved by a 17-8 month going into the final game.
Game 162 did not start out as anything special. In Houston, the Cardinals dispatched of the Astros easily, then waited to see if they were in or if they would be playing the Braves in a tie-breaker.
It looked like Game 163 was on-deck:
Meanwhile, the Yankees hit around David Price.
While the Red Sox had the lead against the Orioles.
Let It Rain
But then it started to rain in Baltimore. And with the Orioles and Red Sox in a rain delay, it started to rain runs inside the Trop.
Still, for all the thrill of the six run eighth, it looked like it would be too little, too late. So, with the Rays still down a run with two outs in the ninth inning, Joe Maddon tried to conjure up the old magic. He called on Dan Johnson to hit against Cory "Sleeper Cell" Wade. But really, this time it just felt tired. Hackneyed. After all, this was the same Dan Johnson who had been given a chance to earn a job as a starter during the abysmal start to the season. The same Dan Johnson that lost that job to the immortal Casey Kotchman. This wasn't 2008, Joe, or even 2010. The magic was gone. This ain't no fairy tale. Stuff like this doesn't happen in real --
OH MY GOD THAT DID NOT JUST HAPPEN HOLY CRAP DAN F'ING JOHNSON I WANNA HAVE YOUR BABIES!!!
In Atlanta, the collapse was finished off in frustrating fashion: an infield single by Hunter Pence in the top of the 13th, and a double play to close it out in the bottom of the frame.
Meanwhile, the rain stopped in Baltimore, just in time for Nolan Reimold to tie the game against Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth:
And then Robert Andino won it, securing the Rays at least a tie-breaker game 163, and apparently sending the Orioles to the World Series.
Emmy Award for Best Celebration Ever by a Spoiler. The only thing I wish I could have found was when Beej had to step out of the box because of the sudden roar at the Trop when this happened. It's why I will always have a soft spot for the O's.
And really, after all that, was anybody surprised when this happened next?
Best. Day. Ever. Now here's Ian with your Link Dump: