Fri, Sep 30, 2011 - Page 20 News List

Rays erase deficit to grab playoff spot

MIRACLE RUN:The Boston Red Sox held a nine-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays at the beginning of this month, but were tied going into Wednesday’s last game

AFP, ST PETERSBURG, Florida

Casey Kotchman of the Tampa Bay Rays, right, beats out an infield hit as first baseman Mark Teixeira of the New York Yankees, front left, stretches for the throw in their game at Tropicana Field in St Petersburg, Florida, on Wednesday.

PHOTO: AFP

AMERICAN LEAGUE

The Tampa Bay Rays erased a seven-run deficit to beat the New York Yankees 8-7 in 12 innings and clinch the American League wild-card playoff berth on Wednesday as Boston fell at Baltimore.

The Rays’ triumph, on Evan Longoria’s home run in the 12th, came minutes after Boston squandered a one-run lead in the ninth inning of their rain-delayed contest in Baltimore and lost 4-3.

The Boston Red Sox, who held a nine-game lead over the Rays in the wild-card race on Sept. 3, were tied with Tampa Bay for the final American League playoff berth going into the final night of Major League Baseball’s regular season.

“It’s just shocking,” said Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester, who could not believe his team were not headed at least for a one-game playoff with the Rays for the wild-card spot.

Tampa Bay’s Longoria hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning that capped a six-run outburst.

Pinch-hitter Dan Johnson’s two-out, two-strike solo home run in the ninth tied it for Tampa Bay.

Longoria won it with a one-out homer that barely cleared the left-field foul pole.

“So I’m just thinking about: ‘Wow, did this just really happen?’ ... Man, when I saw it clear the fence it didn’t seem real,” Longoria said.

Tampa Bay fans had erupted when Boston’s defeat was posted on the scoreboard.

“It was crazy because everyone in the stadium was cheering ... I was just trying to prepare mentally for the at-bat,” Longoria said.

The Rays are scheduled to open the playoffs today against the Texas Rangers, while the Yankees will face Detroit in the other American League first-round series.

For Boston, Wednesday’s game was the culmination of an epic September collapse.

Red Sox closing pitcher Jonathan Papelbon struck out the first two Orioles batters in the ninth inning, before giving up a double to Chris Davis.

Nolan Reimold followed with a double to score pinch-runner Kyle Hudson and Robert Andino delivered a single to left field that Carl Crawford could not handle.

It was just the third blown save of the season for Papelbon.

“I don’t know about everyone else in this clubhouse, but whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Papelbon said.

Boston’s game was halted for 1 hour, 26 minutes by rain in the middle of the seventh inning.

When the rain hit in Baltimore, the Rays trailed the Yankees 7-0 in Florida, but by the time the Red Sox and Orioles resumed play, the Rays and Yankees were tied 7-7 and going into the 10th inning.

The Red Sox’ 7-20 record this month was their worst for the month since they posted the same win-loss record in September 1952.

“We’ll go down in history as one of the worst collapses in history, so it definitely doesn’t feel good to be part of that,” Boston left fielder Carl Crawford said.

Elsewhere in the American League, the Texas Rangers closed the season with a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels to secure home-field advantage in the first round.

Rangers catcher Mike Napoli broke a tie in the ninth inning with his fourth homer in two games as Texas set a club record with their 96th win of the season and their sixth in succession.

With 14 wins in their last 16 games, the Rangers held off Detroit for the right to host Tampa Bay today.

The Tigers did what they could, defeating Cleveland 5-4 in Detroit. They will start the playoffs at New York.

Wednesday’s other results:

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