The Yankees capped off the 2011 regular season by getting swept on the road for the first time all year — and swept for only the third time all season — as the Tampa Bay Rays came storming back from a 7-0 deficit to win 8-7 in extra innings. The loss was the Yankees’ fourth in a row, and dropped their record in extra-inning games to a fluky 4-12 on the season. Additionally, the sweep was Tampa’s second-ever sweep of the Yankees, both of which came at Tropicana Field, and it was the first time the Yanks had been swept on the road since last September following that miserable series in Texas when Ron Washington used 8,000 relievers.
Oh, and the Rays’ win combined with a stunning ninth-inning 4-3 Red Sox loss to the Orioles in which Jonathan Papelbon blew a 3-2 lead and Carl Crawford muffed a potential inning-ending catch ensured that Boston’s historical collapse actually came to fruition, and catapulted the Rays into a rather shocking playoff berth via the Wild Card. I’m not sure who was happier after this one — Yankee fans, knowing that they wouldn’t have to deal with Boston as a potential postseason opponent; Rays’ fans, for one of the most improbable entrances to the postseason ever; or Mets’ fans, whose epic September 2007 collapse is arguably no longer the worst in MLB history. Of all the wild and crazy things that happened during one of the craziest nights in baseball anyone has ever experienced, the most amazing thing to me was a note pointed out by Paul Katcher on Twitter: the Rays had a 99.7% chance of losing as late as the beginning of the bottom of the 8th inning, while the Red Sox had a 95.3% chance of winning with only one out to go in the bottom of the ninth. I don’t know how to calculate the odds of not one but both of these games taking as dramatic a reverse as possible, but I’m guessing the chances of the Rays winning and the Red Sox losing given these WEs was extraordinarily low.
That the Yankees were even in position to win their game in the first place was a bit of a surprise, given that Dellin Betances — making his first career Major League start — was likely only going to be able to throw two innings (which is exactly what he did, walking two and striking two out), but Betances, George Kontos, Aaron Laffey, Phil Hughes, Raul Valdes, A.J. Burnett and Andrew Brackman combined to keep the Rays off the board through the first seven innings.
Coming into the 8th inning down by seven, the Rays rallied for six runs off Boone Logan and Luis Ayala to get within one. But you had a feeling it wasn’t going to end there, and lo and behold, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and two strikes, Dan Johnson — he of the -7 wRC+ and one home run on the season, not to mention of always-seems-to-hit-a-big-homer-against-the-Yankees-and-Boston fame — blasted a game-tying home run to send Rays fans into delirium and Red Sox fans into gloom. Gloom because the Yankees’ only remaining pitcher was Scott Proctor, who somehow managed to last more than an inning before surrendering the inevitable walkoff home run to Evan Longoria, about five minutes after Boston lost to the Orioles.
Yankee fans seemed a bit torn about whether or not the Bombers should’ve fought harder to try to prevent the Rays from even sniffing the playoffs, with some going so far as to say that the Yankees “will be sorry when they’re losing to the Rays in the ALCS.” Jumping the gun much? There are no easy draws in the postseason. Let’s let the Yankees actually make it to the ALCS first before we worry about their hypothetical opponent. I’ll say this much: personally, the prospect of dealing with the stress of another hypothetical Yankees-Red Sox ALCS full of gut-wrenching five-hour nine-inning games was vomit-inducing enough as it was; I have absolutely no problem with the Rays making the playoffs. Let’s see them try to get through the Texas juggernaut first.
Getting back to the game, it was nice to see the Yankee bats actually do a little whooping for what felt like the first time in a while, led by two home runs — including a grand slam — off the bat of a slumping Mark Teixeira, who doubled his home run output for the month in this game. By the time the Rays mounted their comeback, nearly every Yankee regular was out of the lineup, so there isn’t much else to say about the Yankee offense, other than it’ll be nice to finally see the A squad take the field on Friday against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the 2011 American League Division Series.