Pitching is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location. And the problem that has plagued David Price so many times this season, surfaced again, at the worst of times. In just four innings Wednesday night Price threw 97 pitches and gave up six runs. He gave up two home runs to Mark Teixeira including a grand slam in the second inning that was like a pin to the Rays’ balloon. The Rays didn’t have a chance to come apart or falter under the pressure of a must win regular season finale. Instead, they were down a run in the first and then five runs after the second and their playoff chances seemed to be slipping away before they could blink. The Yankees would plate two more runs and take a 7-0 lead. The Rays pulse, if they had one, was faint at best.
Price had walked three and was unable to get ahead of many hitters. When he did get ahead, he couldn’t command his off speed pitches and unable to keep his fastball out of the middle of the plate. When Joe Maddon finally took Price out to start the fifth, it didn’t get any better. Juan Cruz came in and quickly gave up a home run to Andruw Jones, the second batter he faced.
The Rays had some chances early even though they managed just one hit in the first innings. They had at least one base runner in each of the first four innings. In the first, they had runners at first and second with one out, and Matt Joyce along with Johnny Damon struck out looking to end the innings. Desmond Jennings led off the third with a walk and quickly stole second. Three straight outs, though, and the Rays again came away empty handed. The Rays were 0-8 with runners in scoring position and left 10 runners on base in the first seven innings. In the eighth inning, the Rays showed the same fight they have shown since they got down nine games back on September 4.
The Rays first three batters reached base and for the first time since the start of the game, there was life in the Trop. Sam Fuld drew a bases loaded walk and the Rays were finally on the board. Sean Rodriguez was hit by a pitch, but then Desmond Jennings struck out and B.J. Upton hit a sac fly to left. Tampa had three runs but it also had two outs. Evan Longoria came to the plate and as he has so many times in his young career, he came up huge trying to get his team back in the game. Luis Ayala hung a breaking ball and Longoria made him pay depositing it into the seats in left. John Jaso singled to right and Elliot Johnson came in to pinch run. He stole second, but Damon popped up and the inning was over.
Could that be it? Was that the Rays last gasp? In the ninth, Ben Zobrist led off with a fly out to center. Casey Kotchman grounded out to third. The Rays were down to their last out, with Dan Johnson coming up to bat. Dan Johnson, who hadn’t had a major league hit since April and is batting just over .200 for his career, came to the plate. Dan Johnson, the Rays last hope, delivered a lined shot just inside the right field foul pole and the game was tied. The Rays who have been coming back all night had come back again.
The teams traded scoreless halves of the tenth and Brandon Gomes came in and retired the Yankees in order in the eleventh. Greg Golson led off the twelfth with an infield single and Joe Maddon went to lefthander Jake McGee to face Eric Chavez. Chavez dumped a single into left-center and on the hit Golson advanced to third. With nobody out, the Rays played the infield in. Jorge Posada hit a weak grounder right to Longoria and Golson hesitated, and then tried to dive back into third. Longoria tagged him before he could get back, for the first out of the inning. McGee struck out Chris Dickerson for the second out and Brett Gardner chopped one to Zobrist to end the Yankee threat.
With the Rays batting in the bottom of the inning, the Baltimore Orioles scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to come back and beat the Red Sox 4-3. Tampa Bay finally had its playoff destiny in its own hands. Just moments after the scoreboard posted the Boston loss, Evan Longoria smoked a line drive into the left field corner. The ball just cleared the wall inside the foul pole and the Rays had done it. After 12 innings of baseball, in the 162nd game, the Rays had won 8-7 and made the playoffs as the American League Wild Card.