ST. PETERSBURG -- Game 162 might well have been the Rays' finest hour. You won't soon see another like it.
Finding some untapped reserve of heart, the Rays erased a seven-run deficit to the Yankees before taking an 8-7 walk-off win in the 12th to claim the American League Wild Card on Wednesday night.
"Baseball is a crazy game, that's just the way it is," marveled Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "There are teams that are in it until someone says you are not. The Rays won and won the Wild Card."
The Rays came back from nine games out on Sept. 4 to win the Wild Card, the most games ever overcome in September to get to the postseason in Major League history.
"I know it's big," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "But I'm not there yet. I haven't wrapped my mind around it. We've been too busy trying to do this. I haven't grasped it all yet. I will at some point. I'm totally aware of the circumstances and the place in baseball history. But for right now, I'm not quite there yet." With one out in the 12th and Evan Longoria at the plate, the score flashed at Tropicana Field that the Orioles had defeated the Red Sox, 4-3, which meant a Rays win would get them to the postseason.
"I knew they had tied the game, and I had to step out because everybody was cheering," Longoria said. "And there was nothing going on, so I figured at that point the Orioles had won. And then it's a matter of getting back into that at-bat and re-focusing."
Longoria didn't really know how he managed to get back on point.
"I just tried to step out of the box, take a deep breath," Longoria said. "Try and remember what we're playing for. Obviously we had an opportunity at that point to win and get into the playoffs. I mean, I'm thinking about getting on base and scoring a run."
Moments later, Longoria laced a 2-2 pitch from Scott Proctor over the short porch in left to give the Rays the walk-off win.
"When I hit that ball, I knew it was going to stay fair, and that that was the only place it had a chance to go out because it wasn't high enough," Longoria said. "When I saw it clear the fence, it didn't seem real."
While rounding the bases, Longoria thought to himself how happy he was that the home run had put the team into the playoffs, and not into a one-game playoff with the Red Sox.
"So I'm just thinking about, wow, this has really happened," Longoria said.
The Rays trailed 5-0 after two innings, prompting the crowd of 29,518 to become scoreboard watchers.
Soon, the Rays' game moved into the bottom of the eighth with the home team trailing 7-0. But while the fans continued to watch the scoreboard, which showed a rain delay in Baltimore, the Rays got busy.
After loading the bases with no outs in the eighth, pinch-hitter Sam Fuld drew a bases-loaded walk from Luis Ayala to drive home the Rays' first run.
"I'm thinking about that [Aug. 10] Kansas City game [when the Rays scored five in the ninth to win], like there was nobody in the building that thought we had a chance," said Fuld, who had a game-tying triple in that game, then scored the winning run on a fielding error on the play. "And I'm just thinking, 'Keep the momentum going.' I knew what I had behind me with B.J. and Longo. I knew all I had to do was get on base to keep the momentum going."
Sean Rodriguez then got hit by a pitch to score the second run. One out later, B.J. Upton hit a sacrifice fly to cut the lead to 7-3 and bring Longoria to the plate with two outs.
"All of us knew we needed something to happen [in the eighth]," Dan Johnson said. "Once we started to get the runners on base, we started seeing it and believing it could happen."
Longoria responded by hitting Ayala's first pitch into the left-field stands for his 30th home run of the season, thereby emptying the bases and narrowing the deficit to one run at 7-6.
The comeback appeared to fizzle when Cory Wade retired the first two Rays hitters in the bottom of the ninth. Johnson then stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter.
Johnson is well remembered in Rays lore for the game-tying home run he hit against Boston's Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning of the Sept. 9, 2008 game at Fenway Park. That game proved pivotal in the Rays' 2008 pennant run. Could Johnson again find the magic?
After the count moved to 2-2, Johnson homered to right field, setting off an eruption from the loyal crowd that remained.
"I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit, and it ended up well for me," Johnson said. "I was just so fortunate to be able to get that chance and then capitalize on it."
The Rays dug themselves into a hole from the outset of Wednesday night's game.
David Price started for Tampa Bay and got off to a shaky start, but he should have escaped the first unscathed. Instead, second baseman Ben Zobrist booted what would have been an inning-ending grounder by Robinson Cano, which scored Curtis Granderson from third to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead.
Price then found real trouble in the second when the Yankees loaded the bases with one out. Granderson popped out for the second out before Mark Teixeira stepped to the plate. After the count moved to 3-2, the Yankees first baseman swung, and the result silenced Tropicana Field. When the ball landed in the left-field stands, Teixeira had his 38th home run of the season and seventh career grand slam, while the Yankees had a 5-0 lead.
Teixeira homered again in the fourth, and Andruw Jones added a solo shot off Price's replacement, Juan Cruz, in the fifth to extend the lead to 7-0.
"This team never quits," Price said. "We didn't quit when we were 0-6 at the start of the season, we didn't quit in September. We didn't quit when we were seven runs down in the last game of the season and Boston was winning. It looks like this team has what it takes."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.