Rays reach baseball’s playoffs on magical night: A fan’s reaction

Following the late-night drama of the final day of the 2011 baseball season, fans of the Tampa Bay Rays universally asked themselves, "Did that just happen?"

Tropicana Field was the setting for a magical night for the Tampa Bay Rays on the final day of the 2011 season.
Jeff Briscoe

Indeed, the same question could be asked by both Rays and Boston Red Sox supporters concerning the entire month of September.

Well, it's time to re-write the history books because, yes, that did just happen.

On a magical night, the Rays overcame a 7-0 deficit and defeated the New York Yankees 8-7. Down to their last out in the ninth inning, the comeback kids defied the odds yet again, aided by another miraculous game-tying Dan Johnson(notes) home run. Evan Longoria(notes) then finished the job with a game-winning blast in the bottom of the 12th, his second homer of the night.

Only moments before Longoria's walk-off heroics, the Baltimore Orioles handed Boston a stunning 4-3 loss. The Red Sox clung to a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth, with All-Star Jonathan Papelbon(notes) on the mound. The closer recorded the first two outs but then yielded three consecutive hits in a gut-wrenching defeat.

The combination of these two simultaneous games completed the comeback for Tampa Bay and earned the American League wild card spot for the 2011 playoffs.

As has been well-documented, the Rays stood an intimidating nine games behind the Red Sox as late as Sept. 3. Fans had every reason to look ahead frustratingly to 2012 but for the fact that quirky manager Joe Maddon seems to savor circumstances that enable his squad to beat the odds.

Leading to what became the greatest late season comeback ever, Tampa Bay did just that and since performed just as stellar, as Boston played horrendously.

During the month of September, the Rays went an impressive 17-10. Meanwhile, Boston endured a heart-breaking collapse by posting a miserable 7-20 mark during the season's final month.

Certainly, the Red Sox were plagued by the injury bug and the recent loss of Kevin Youkilis(notes) definitely stung. But no excuses can justify this kind of historic collapse.

Likewise, the Rays seemed to benefit from good fortune at every turn. Even in opposing the mighty Yankees for six of the past nine games, Tampa Bay faced a team far more concerned with resting its players for the forthcoming playoffs. But no amount of luck can detract from the winning effort put into the season's final month.

Reaching the playoffs for the third time in the past four years, 2011 will be long celebrated by Tampa Bay Rays fans. As the hottest team entering the playoffs—and clearly karma's favorite son—it remains to be seen if the Rays are also a team of destiny.

After all, though the year proved to be nearly everything supporters could hope for, it is a sports fan's prerogative to be greedy. With strong pitching and defense, as well as undeniably clutch and timely hitting, Tampa Bay is capable of going deep into the playoffs. Surely, Joe Maddon will find a unique way to keep his troops loose and avoid a letdown after Wednesday's fireworks.

In a rematch of last year's exciting division series, the Rays now clash with the American League West champion Texas Rangers. Game 1 will be played in Arlington on Friday, Sept. 30, with first pitch scheduled for 5:07 p.m.

Source:

Yahoo! Sports

More by Jeff Briscoe from Yahoo! Contributor Network:

Five reasons for Tampa Bay Rays' strong September

Tampa Bay Rays thrive under manager Joe Maddon

Jeff Briscoe is a dad of three Florida kids and a follower of the Tampa Bay Rays. He hopes the franchise can keep baseball viable in the Sunshine State until his own children can wear the uniform and usher in the golden age of baseball in Florida.

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Updated Thursday, Sep 29, 2011