2005 was not a successful year for the Tampa Bay Rays franchise. But the one thing that stood about that year was how the Devil Rays did everything they possibly could to hold the Yankees back from playoff contention, going 10-8 against them in their 18-game season series. They failed as the Yankees won the AL East with a 95-67 record, same as the Red Sox, winning the division by winning the season series against Boston, who was the Wild Card. But the D-Rays’ games against the Yankees led to some of the most exciting moments in the young history of the Rays, and one game that stood out was August 16th, 2005.
In the annals of Yankee history, Doug Waechter is a laughing stock. He is best known for being the pitcher who allowed 5 runs in a start against the Yankees while failing to record an out. But on August 16th, matched up against future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, Waechter gave the Yankees everything they could handle. A Hideki Matsui 2-run single led to a 2-0 Yankee lead against Waechter, with both runs being unearned after an Alex Gonzalez error. An RBI single by John Flaherty, the former Devil Rays and Yankees backup catcher, made it 3-0. But Waechter and the Devil Rays battled back.
It was not easy for Waechter. In the 2nd inning, he had to work out of a bases-loaded, no out jam after the Flaherty RBI hit to keep it a 3-0 game. Then from the 4th to the 6th, Waechter allowed at least one baserunner in each inning but found a way to strand them all. Finally in the bottom of the 6th, the Rays rewarded Waechter with some runs. Eduardo Perez slammed a 2-run homer off of Johnson to make it a 3-2 game. Johnson wound up going 7 innings allowing 2 runs on 5 hits, striking out 7 while walking 2. Waechter, meanwhile, had retired 9 of 10 from the 6th to the 8th, with the only baserunner reaching on another error. Waechter made it 13 of 14 retired with a 1-2-3 inning in the 9th, but the Devil Rays had to face Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the inning down a run. But with 1 out, Rivera left a cutter up, and Perez hit a long drive to deep left-center. Hideki Matsui went back, but it was over his head and into the seats as the D-Rays had tied the game at 3. Two innings later, after Chad Orvella had retired 6 of the 7 batters he faced, the Devil Rays loaded the bases with 2 outs in the 9th against Scott Proctor on a Carl Crawford double and 2 walks, 1 intentional, before Proctor walked Jonny Gomes to end it as the Devil Rays had somehow won the game 4-3.
That game had to foreshadow Game 162 a little bit, right? The Yankees pull away early and everyone in the ballpark thinks the game is over. Same type of 9th inning scenario where you’re thinking there’s no way that the Rays can tie the game up and somehow they pull it off. And then the extra-inning finish was much less climactic, but the losing pitcher was the same, Scott Proctor. In reality, this game was far short of Game 162. For the Devil Rays, it meant very little in a season where they won just 67 games. But it was one of those games that gave Rays fans hope that someday the Rays could go at it with the Yankees at a consistent basis, keep it tight until the last possible moment, and find a way to win. It was one of the few moments before 2008 where you could be proud to be a Rays fan and knew exactly why you continued to follow them amid the seemingly never-ending struggles of the first 10 years of their history.