They are clearly the two greatest moments in Rays history.
The final out of Game 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series against the Red Sox, the ground ball to second baseman Aki Iwamura that sent the Rays to their first — and still only — World Series.
And the final swing of Game 162 of the 2011 season, the 12th-inning walkoff home run by Evan Longoria against the Yankees that sent the Rays into the playoffs as the AL wild-card team.
The first crowned what was one of the greatest one-year turnarounds in baseball history, as they Rays went from worst to first, making their first winning season a remarkable one with 97 wins and an AL East title, then an opening round playoffs win over the White Sox.
The latter capped what is widely considered the greatest single night in baseball history. The Rays rallied to win after being down 7-0 going into the eighth inning, including a two-out, two-strike game-tying homer by Dan Johnson, while the Red Sox blew their lead in Baltimore (and there were similar dramatics with the Braves and Cardinals for a National League playoff spot).
So which was the greater moment in Rays history?
If you need a refresher, both games are on TV this week thanks to Fox Sports Sun’s classic replays and available anytime on YouTube.com.
But we decided to go to the source. Well, sources.
We texted more than 20 people who were parts of both Rays teams — players, coaches, execs, broadcasters, even the owner. Some considered just the specific moment, some factored in broader context.
Spoiler alert, there was a heavy lean to the 2008 game, including from the guy who delivered the drama in 2011, Longoria.
But some of the reasons were quite different. Here are the best replies (some edited for clarity):
2008 all night
Evan Longoria, third baseman
“The Game 7 win was bigger, and much more important to the Rays franchise. Before 2008, the Rays were perennial bottom dwellers. The worst-to-first story is one of the greatest turnarounds ever. And personally, being able to play for the trophy is the pinnacle.”
Stuart Sternberg, principal owner
“2008 for sure. Each and every signal the catcher gave the pitcher mattered. Each base mattered. Each batted ball mattered. And the stakes if it had gone bad would have haunted us for years. Not at all to diminish what the 2011 run meant and its improbability throughout the summer. The circumstances that night are unparalleled in baseball.”
B.J. Upton, centerfielder
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“For me, I wore the green (of the struggling Devil Rays), so I’m going to say the 2008 playoffs. To come from where we came from as an organization, as a whole, and to see a lot of the guys there that started there, for me that was definitely more important than ‘The Longo.' The ’08 season kind of set the stage for the future of the organization.”
Joe Maddon, manager
“I’ve got ‘ground ball to Aki.’ I love what Longo did, and from a pure dramatic perspective that night, it is probably very difficult to exceed the drama because so many cities and teams and players and fans were impacted. But for us, for a franchise, ‘ground ball to Aki,’ that gave us a chance to go finish it off (against the Phillies). We didn’t do it. But that’s the play right there that for me resonates more than any one.”
Andy Sonnanstine, pitcher
“Although Game 162 was extremely exciting and brought a few teams’ hopes of going to the postseason down to a short window of just a few minutes, I think that ALCS Game 7 was the best baseball game I have ever been a part of. Winning that close game during our dream season was a welcoming party for a team that needed to prove itself in the toughest division of all of sports. Going to the World Series was always a dream of mine as a little kid so winning Game 7 made my dreams of competing on the biggest stage in the world come true.”
Matt Silverman, team president
“2008. We were a year removed from the Devil Rays. We had squandered Game 5 and the series lead. It was as make or break as they come.”
Andy Freed, radio broadcaster
“As historic as both were, the 2008 pennant clincher holds such significance in the franchise’s history that it has to be number one. The fact that it actually got the team into the World Series on a storyline parallel with the ’69 Mets and finally toppled the rival Red Sox took the team to another stratosphere. Without that AL pennant, there would still be a feeling of less legitimacy for the Rays. By 2011, the Rays were already an established threat to everyone with two AL East titles under their belts. Both moments are forever etched in fans’ memories in part because they were the only game going on and all eyes were on it. But forced to choose, it’s got to be Game 7 in 2008.”
Tom Foley, third-base coach
“There was so much buildup going into Game 7. We lost the last two games. Here we are with a Game 7 with Boston with a chance to go to the World Series. The tension in that game was ridiculous. There wasn’t a whole lot of scoring. One little thing could happen and change it. The 162 game we were basically grinding away, trying to get there, just seeing what happens, and we had to rely on another club. I’d have to say the Boston game for us. It was just tension packed, every out, every pitch all the way through the game. Even the last out, when the ground ball was hit, it was a really bad hop and Aki stuck with it and made the play.”
Brian Anderson, 2008 coach/TV broadcaster
“While Game 162 will go down as part of one of the great nights in MLB history, the reason that you play the game is to win a World Series and to be able to do that you must first get there. I know that it didn’t work out in the end but to be able to win Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS, on your home field no less, and go to the World Series for the first time in franchise history makes it a pretty easy decision for me.”
Rick Vaughn, Rays PR director
“I’d say the greatest moment was the final out of Game 7. It is the Rays’ only AL championship. Finished one of the greatest turnaround seasons in MLB history. Legitimized the franchise. The stakes were bigger. I feel like Game 162 had the two most magical moments.”
Neil Solondz, radio broadcaster
“I go with the ALCS. Game 162 had a greater impact on baseball being that it led to all teams playing at the same time now on the final day. However, going to the World Series for the first time, especially after not ever winning more than 70 games prior, meant more to the franchise.”
Dan Johnson, first baseman/DH
“This is an impossible question for me to answer! If I have to choose one of them, I would have to say winning the ALCS and getting into the World Series. Winning the ALCS ring and knowing that we were the best team in the AL is impossible to beat. That season put the Rays on the map and gave the fans something to get behind.”
J.P. Howell, reliever
“From worst to first, and to sneaking in the playoffs on the last pitch of the season??? Both had to be 1 percenters. But without that Game 7, I’m not sure we could have believed in Game 162 like we did! The ’08 season created enough momentum to last you a career!”
James Shields, pitcher
“Oh man, those are two totally different ends of the spectrum, totally different scenarios. Both equally had their amazing memorable moments. For me, going to the World Series, that’s exactly what we dream of as kids, and to be able to do it in the fashion we did, taking it all the way down to Game 7 was pretty special. And going to the World Series for the first time in Rays history. As far as 162, that was the most drama, the ups and downs, and then everything happening within three minutes of each other. For me, I don’t think you can write a book any better than that. Being down seven runs it was incredible the way that happened. I was going in to pitch the next inning and I was actually warming up in the bullpen. When Longo hit the home run, I’m pretty sure I almost high-fived him at first base I ran in so hard. That was just unbelievable.”
David Price, pitcher
“To me the greatest was Game 162 because I was a part of that from spring training on. But I think the greatest moment was in 2008 ‘cause it was so unexpected and we went to a World Series and it was Tampa’s first time in the playoffs."
Dave Wills, radio broadcaster
“Here’s my simple answer: The greatest game was Game 7. Win and you go to the World Series. Bigger crowd, and only game played that night. The bigger moments were in Game 162, the Johnson homer and the Longo homer. Plus, as it turned out, had we lost there still would have been a Game 163.”
162’s walkoff winner
Jim Hickey, pitching coach
“How can you say anything topped Game 162, especially with all things considered that were going on that night in baseball? The thing that really stands out to me is Boston playing Baltimore and we’re down early, and they’re probably all high-fiving each other. Then I vividly remember hearing this roar go up from the crowd (at the Trop when the Sox lost) and it wasn’t two minutes later that Longo hit that homer and we had it locked up and they’re going home. Obviously Longo gets all the love and deservingly so, but, geez, Dan Johnson, it was two outs and two strikes on the night. If you had to go through Game 162 on a nightly basis you wouldn’t make it through a month — your heart would give out. I have vivid memories of 2008 and going to the World Series. But I only have two pieces of baseball memorabilia on the wall at my house, and one is a placard of the timeline of the greatest night in baseball. That’s how much I think of Game 162 and that night. It’ll never happen again. A lot of things will happen again. There’s no chance that will ever happen again.” (His other item, interestingly, is a signed print from Derek Jeter’s 3,000th career hit off Price.)
Dewayne Staats, TV broadcaster
“I have to go with Longoria’s homer. It was such an improbable comeback, down by seven in the eighth and then to cap off an unbelievable day for baseball all around with his walk-off home run. I am amazed how many times fans still talk with me about the call and Evan’s great moment. It still makes me feel good.”
Dave Martinez, bench coach
“I’ve been thinking about it, because they were both so memorable. Playing in a Game 7 against the Red Sox to get into the World Series, that always stands out, and we ended up winning. Game 162, you can’t just think of us, there was mayhem with a lot of things going on. Obviously Boston jumps ahead and we fall behind big against the Yankees. But we’re like, you just have to keep playing the game, and next thing you know, here we go — Boom! Boom! Boom! Longo’s first homer, Dan Johnson with his pinch-hit homer, then Longo with his huge homer. That game, and that whole day, you never forget that. We always talk about that. It was amazing to be a part of that. It was an epic night for baseball. Though I did like going to the World Series (in ’08).”