Wild final day puts Rays, Cards in playoffs

THURSDAY, SEPT. 29, 2011

A startling rally by the Tampa Bay Rays, a season saved by a guy hitting only .108. A total collapse by the Boston Red Sox, on one more ball that just got away.

Another big win by Chris Carpenter and the St. Louis Cardinals. Another near-miss for Chipper Jones and the Atlanta Braves.

A frenzied finish all over the majors on Wednesday night, more than any fan could’ve asked for. And it’s not even October yet.

“One of the greatest days in baseball history,” the New York Yankees’ Mark Teixeira said.

And imagine this: Teixeira’s team lost.

The final day of the regular season had already shaped up as a wild one, with the playoff picture still a blur. Boston and Tampa Bay tied for the A.L. wild-card spot, Atlanta and St. Louis even for the N.L. wild-card slot, not a single postseason pairing set.

Turned out, it took at least three TVs to watch what followed.

Minute by minute, inning by inning, the races took shape, only to then suddenly fall apart. But when Evan Longoria hit his second home run of the game, connecting after midnight at Tropicana Field in the 12th inning to lift the Rays over the Yankees 8-7, everything was all set.

“I can barely breathe, to be honest with you. It doesn’t seem real,” Longoria said.

So, no one-game tiebreakers needed. Pretty nifty way to wrap up things, too, under the current postseason format. Next year, it’s expected that each league will produce a pair of wild-card teams.

The Red Sox will have all winter to lament how they lost.

Boston held a nine-game lead over Tampa Bay on the morning of Sept. 4, but finished 7-20. The Red Sox became the first team to miss the postseason after holding that large of a lead entering September.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon took a 3-2 lead into the ninth at Camden Yards and struck out the first two batters and was later one strike away for ending it. But Chris Davis and Nolan Reimold followed with doubles that tied it and Robert Andino hit a single that sliding left fielder Carl Crawford couldn’t quite glove to win it for the Orioles 4-3.

The ball that escaped Crawford was much harder to field than the one that rolled under Bill Buckner’s glove so many years earlier, but no doubt Red Sox fans will cringe at the memory of both.

The Rays, meanwhile, rallied from a 7-0 deficit, tying the Yankees on pinch-hitter Dan Johnson’s solo homer with two outs in the ninth inning. A roar erupted at Tropicana Field when the Boston loss was posted on the scoreboard. Four minutes later, Longoria homered barely inside the left-field foul pole.

The Cardinals, who trailed the Braves by 101/2 games before play on Aug. 26, made it easy on themselves as Carpenter shut out Houston 8-0.

An hour or so later, St. Louis was in the playoffs when the Braves blew it. Philadelphia nicked closer Craig Kimbrel for a tying run in the ninth and won 4-3 in the 13th at Turner Field.

Tags: baseball

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