ST. PETERSBURG — The only thing wilder than the ending Wednesday night was the celebration in the Rays clubhouse.
And the explanations for what they did.
The Rays extended their amazing season in stunning, staggering fashion, winning the American League wild card when Evan Longoria hit a walkoff homer in the 12th inning to complete a remarkable comeback with an 8-7 win moments after the Red Sox blew a ninth-inning lead in Baltimore.
"There is no human explanation for what happened here," Ben Zobrist said. "That just doesn't happen in baseball. This is what you would dream about happening."
If the Rays didn't believe it as the champagne and beer sprayed around their clubhouse early this morning, they will when they get to Texas this afternoon and open the best-of-five AL Division Series on Friday, a rematch of last season.
"Oh my God. It's really made for some kind of book, whether it's a fairy tale or something,'' Longoria said. "It's tough to do. But we did it somehow."
All it took Wednesday was a stunning and stirring comeback from a seven-run seventh-inning deficit capped by Longoria's three-run homer. A two-out, two-strike homer in the bottom of the ninth by Dan Johnson, yes, that Dan Johnson, to tie. Then — moments after the Boston loss flashed on the scoreboard — Longoria homered in the 12th at 12:05 a.m. and rounded the bases with a massive celebration breaking out, Born to be Wild blaring.
"This is going to go down with (Bobby) Thomson's home run, Joe Carter's home run,'' Rays manager Joe Maddon said after the nearly five-hour game. "I know it's not the World Series, but this is going to be attached to a lot of significant baseball lore as we move forward.''
Just to get to extra innings took a remarkable comeback, their largest of this season and second biggest in Tampa Bay franchise history, and before a raucous Tropicana Field crowd of 29,518.
Down 7-0 through seven inning after a disappointing start by David Price, the Rays rallied for six runs in the eighth, capped by a three-run homer that was Longoria's 30th of the season.
But that was topped by what happened in the ninth. Down to their last out, the Rays reached for their luckiest charm, sending up Johnson — who hit The homer in Boston in September 2008 — and he delivered another dagger to the Red Sox. "I told B.J. (Upton) before he went to the plate this is gonna be a rerun of 2008,'' Longoria said. "I don't know how he does it.''
Said Maddon: "I was hoping.''
Down to his last strike, Johnson lined Cory Wade's 2-and-2 pitch on a line drive just inside the rightfield foul pole to tie the score.
And then that was topped by what happened in the 12th. After rookies Brandon Gomes and Jake McGee again pitched in with scoreless innings, and after Longoria made another tremendous defensive play in the top of the 12th, they finally ended it in the bottom.
Longoria was at the plate with one out when the cheers erupted with the Red Sox loss, and he stepped out of the box to focus. "Just tried to remember what we were playing for," he said. "Obviously we had an opportunity at that point to win and get into the playoffs."
He grasped it, lining a 2-and-2 pitch from Scott Proctor just the over the short wall in the leftfield corner. "I was just thinking, 'Wow, did this just really happen,' " Longoria said. "When I saw it clear the fence it didn't seem real."
The Rays had both champagne (212 bottles) and beer (40 cases) chilled for a potential clinching celebration and equipment bags loaded for the trip to Texas and improbably they needed both, as barely eight minutes lapsed from when the Red Sox loss till the Rays won.
The game turned out to be a classic, and also a battle of attrition. The Rays used 18 position players and eight pitchers, and with Upton cramping up at the end, Maddon said he was prepared to put DH Johnny Damon in the outfield and use Andy Sonnanstine as a pinch-hitter. Also, the next pitcher was going to be Monday starter James Shields.
Having battled so valiantly, so relentlessly and so improbably over the last month to go into Wednesday's season finale with a chance, the Rays couldn't have gotten off to a worse start. A defensive mistake by second baseman Zobrist and a brutally bad pitching performance from Price, who performed nothing like the ace he is supposed to be, putting them in a 5-0 hole by the second inning, and it was 7-0 by the fifth as the Rays had only two hits against the Yankees patchwork pitching staff.
The Rays became the first team to make the postseason after being nine games out in September.
"This team has something special inside of it,'' team president Matt Silverman said. "We can't wait to see where it's going to take us.''
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]