09/29/11 2:57 AM ET
Rays reflect on monumental comeback
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
"You can never script anything like this," the Rays team president said. "You can talk forever about the can't-die attitude of this club. Whether we were 8 1/2, 9, 10 games out, or seven runs down, this team has something special inside of it. I can't wait to see where this can take us. I have nothing else I can say."
The Rays rallied for an 8-7 walk-off win on Wednesday night over the Yankees, and coupled with the Red Sox's loss to the Orioles, earned the Wild Card berth.
Johnny Damon, who has played on teams that won the World Series -- including the 2004 Red Sox when they overcame a 3-0 deficit to the Yankees in the AL Championship Series -- said he couldn't quite seem to get a grip on what had just happened.
"I didn't think anything would ever top the World Series in Boston, but this does," Damon said. "Regardless of what happens during the playoffs, the comeback we had to make. Everyone who counted us out. A month ago, everyone who counted us out, those who counted us out before today's game. Even people who counted us out after [Mark] Teixeira hit that grand slam. ...
"There's so much to be grateful for. And we did it. We accomplished goal No. 1: Get to the playoffs. Now we have to face a very tough Texas team."
The Rays saw their payroll drop from $72 million in 2010 to $42 million this season, yet here they are again in the winner's circle.
"I'm a little bit of a freak when I watch games," confessed Andrew Friedman, the Rays executive vice president and the man who pieced together this year's team after so many defections through free agency and trades. "And so today, I can't describe the emotions, watching both games [the Orioles-Red Sox and the Rays-Yankees] and all the back and forth that went on with it. I can't say enough about the guys we have, and the battle, just tonight. Forget September, just tonight. That's incredible."
The Yankees had just lost the game, but they could not help but salute the Rays.
"I really can't believe it," said Teixeira, who had two home runs for the Yankees, one of them a second-inning grand slam. "I think fans should be excited. That was probably one of the best days in baseball's history. Every game tonight, all across baseball, seemed like it mattered. And there were some great finishes. ... Give them a lot of credit. Down seven runs, going into the eighth inning, with their season on the line? You give them a lot of credit for the way they fought back."
Robinson Cano said the win will make the Rays a dangerous entree into the playoffs.
"We know they've got a young team, but they can do a lot of damage," Cano said. "They proved it the last few days. But we're not going to face them in the first round, so let's see how they do against Texas."
Alex Rodriguez noted that the Rays winning a spot in the playoffs "didn't tell me anything new."
"Joe Maddon always has his guys ready, they play 27 outs," Rodriguez said. "Longoria had a magical night for him and his team, and they're a very dangerous team because they have very good pitching. They're very athletic."
Evan Longoria, who hit two home runs, including the game-winner in the 12th, said what has happened to the Rays this season is "really meant for some kind of book."
"Whether it's a fairy tale or something," Longoria said. "I think just being able to get to a game where we had a chance to play a 163 or get in, if you could have drawn it up any better, it would be completely fake."
When asked if reaching the playoffs this year compared to the first time the Rays made it in 2008, manager Joe Maddon said, "It's so different."
"I can't say sweeter, because 2008, coming from 100 losses, that's pretty cool," Maddon said. "Now you come back from nine games back at the beginning of September to do this, it's a different kind of cool. I can't say one is better than the other. I love all of my kids. ... They're all pretty good."
James Shields, who had a special season on the mound for the Rays and was prepared to entered the game if it had advanced to the 13th, said this year's team was "probably the most special" of all the Rays teams that have gotten to the playoffs.
"To be able to come from where we did was unbelievable," Shields said. "That's historic. Nobody's done that before. And to be able to do that in the American League East, that's even more special. ... We just stayed loose, stayed in it. We're not quitters. We don't quit. That's kind of our motto right now. We not going to quit, and hopefully we're not over."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.