Instant karma knocks, Rays answer
Never-say-die attitude propelled Tampa Bay to postseason
ARLINGTON -- Do you believe in karma? Johnny Damon, sage of the Rays, does.
"After being down so far, I think we all believe in karma," Damon said, leaning on a chair in the visitors' clubhouse at Rangers Ballpark on the day after, still soaking it all in. "So many good things have happened to us after we had so many other things happen."
Damon just watched his old team from Boston, seven years removed from Johnny's "Idiots" and their life-altering run to a World Series championship, nose-dive into the Camden Yards turf on Wednesday night. Good karma apparently deserted New England, landing again at the feet of Damon -- and his youthful true-believers.
"We all believe in karma, definitely," Sean Rodriguez said. "I know Johnny does. Just look at him, and you can tell."
The Rangers, who are about to test the power of that Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg karma, were literally in the dark while the world was watching the wildest, most impossibly thrilling and agonizing conclusion to a regular season in all the irregular seasons of Major League Baseball.
Red Sox lose, Rays win. Cardinals win, Braves lose. Good karma reached the heartland, too.
In the space of 25 minutes, folks in St. Louis and Florida were headed to the rooftops to shout out in euphoria, while humbled faithful in New England and Atlanta gathered and wept.
What a night.
As the Rays' Evan Longoria was circling the bases, completing the long day's journey into night with a 12th inning, walk-off homer for the ages, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon was that 10-year-old kid who'd fallen under the spell of the game and his Cardinals in 1963.
"I don't even remember what I thought," Maddon said, recalling only that he was reflexively shouting at bench coach Dave Martinez. "I kept saying to Davey, `Do you believe this?'"
There might have been another word thrown in there, Maddon added with a sly smile.
Homers by Longoria and Dan Johnson had revived the Rays, bringing belief back to the dugout, and here they were in Texas, in the postseason.
"Last night rips everything apart," Maddon said. "It is so unthinkable. At the moment when it happens, what are you supposed to do? [How] do you react to this? How do you actually celebrate? You eventually figure it out, but it really draws a lot out of you."
The Orioles' comeback triumph over the Red Sox in Baltimore had been posted on the Tropicana Field scoreboard three minutes before Longoria unloaded with a shot heard all around the baseball world.
Damon called it "one of the top five" homers ever. Maddon would put it in the class of Bobby Thomson, Bucky Dent, Joe Carter, Kirk Gibson -- home runs of epic proportions.
"It was truly astonishing, but believable that he would do it right there," Maddon said, seemingly contradicting himself but somehow making perfect sense in describing Longoria's dance with history. "You hear the cheer, you see the number go up on the board, Baltimore beats Boston. And why not hit a home run right there?"
Three time zones away, not knowing the identity of their opponent in the upcoming American League Division Series they'd be opening on Friday, the Rangers had showered, shaved, dressed and boarded a bus that would take them late Wednesday night to a Southern California airport.
Already home in Texas, having left California early to get settled for his Game 1 start, Rangers ace C.J. Wilson was working the remote, transfixed.
"I was watching our game, I was watching the Red Sox game, I was watching the Yankees game, kind of all at the same time," Wilson said. "And I was just thinking this is the craziest [thing]. ... That's all I could think of, this is the craziest pair of games ever right now."
Now the Rangers players, aglow with a huge victory of their own courtesy of Mike Napoli's two homers, were in a parked bus in a tunnel, waiting for manager Ron Washington and the coaches -- with no television access other than what they could pull up from their electronic devices.
"I was on the phone, and the lady I was talking to said that Boston lost and Tampa won," Texas right fielder Nelson Cruz said. "I said, `C'mon, you're joking.' Then I found out it was true.
"There was a lot of noise on the bus. It's like we all were kids, going a little crazy. It was pretty crazy, wasn't it?"
Oh, yes. It was. It certainly was.
The Cards finished a 10 1/2-game climb to the NL Wild Card, getting a Chris Carpenter shutout in Houston as the Braves let a lead get away and fell to Philadelphia in 13 innings in Atlanta.
Then came the dueling dramas in Baltimore and Florida.
As it all came crashing down on Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon in a flurry of Orioles hits, the Rays were riding long balls from Longoria and Dan Johnson all the way back from a 7-0 deficit against the Yankees to complete the closest thing the game offers to an impossible mission.
From nine down on Sept. 3, the Rays overcame the largest final month deficit ever to reach the postseason. Next best: these 2011 Cardinals, who were 8 1/2 back on Sept. 3.
"Those things only happen in baseball," said Adrian Beltre, who left Boston for the Rangers in free agency over the winter and retains personal ties with the Red Sox. "It's crazy. It's great for the game.
"For me, knowing those guys, how good they are, it was even harder to believe it could happen like that. There's just so much talent on that team. They're grinding every day. They're really good guys.
"All those hitters, all those pitchers, one of the best closers in baseball on the mound -- and a [Baltimore] team with no pressure comes back and ends their season. That's why baseball is such a great game. Amazing things happen."
It might be enough to make you believe in karma.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.