Infielder Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays rounds the bases after his bottom of the twelfth inning walk off home run against the New York Yankees during the game at Tropicana Field on September 28, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Greatest Night In A.L. History Ends With Simultaneous Walkoffs

At almost the exact moment the Red Sox finished losing in Baltimore, the Rays were beating the Yankees in the 12th inning on Evan Longoria's walkoff homer, eliminating Boston and sending Tampa Bay to the playoffs once more.

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Boston Red Sox GM Theo Epstein Admits 'Regrets' At Press Conference

Boston GM Theo Epstein spoke to the media a day after the Red Sox completed an epic collapse, failing to make the playoffs.

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Carl Crawford And The Red Sox: The Perfect Storm

It will take a while for scholars to deconstruct Wednesday night's game. Until the dust settles, let's look at the most obvious metaphor of the bunch.

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Fate, Thy Name Is Dan Johnson

The immensity of what happened Wednesday night hasn't completely sunk in yet, except we know we saw something most of us will never see again. And nobody better symbolizes the improbability than Tampa Bay's Dan Johnson.

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Rays Vs. Yankees: Evan Longoria Saves The Season, Tampa Fans In Awe

Wednesday night was possibly the greatest regular season night ever in the American League. It might have been the greatest regular season night in the history of baseball, period. It was all capped off by a walk-off home run by Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays, a home run that gave the Rays an 8-7 victory over the New York Yankees after 12 innings. It came just minutes after the Boston Red Sox collapsed in the ninth inning. The A.L. playoff picture went from advantage Sox, to uncertainty, to the Rays winning a Wild Card berth in under 30 minutes.

Of course, it wasn't just about Jonathan Papelbon giving the game away for the Sox or Longoria's walk-off. The path to that moment for the Rays was the most improbable part. Down 7-0 in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Rays rallied for six runs, giving themselves a chance in the ninth. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, down to their last out of the season, Dan Johnson stepped to the plate. Johnson, a man with a sub-.300 on-base percentage and one home run in just 26 plate appearances to that point in 2011, hit a game-tying solo home run. From there, the Rays had to win. They'd already done the difficult (and highly improbable) part.

Tampa Bay Rays blog DRaysBay summed up the moment nicely.

What a roller coaster ride. What an experience. I can't wait for playoff baseball, but I also don't think anything can come quite as close to perfection as this game. The Rays were nine games out in the beginning of September, but they played .630 ball down the stretch against primarily really good teams: seven against the Yankees, seven against the Red Sox, and four against the Rangers.

As cool as this game was, the point at the end is just as important as the final day of the season. The Rays had a tough September schedule and they played great through that stretch. They deserve to be in the playoffs, and they now look ahead to a series against the Texas Rangers.

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Red Sox Collapse, Rays Comeback: Odds Of That Were 1 In 278 Million

Coming into Wednesday night with the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays tied for the American League Wild Card spot, we expected drama, but what happened was crazier and more unlikely than anyone could have imagined. Just look at the numbers.

Over at the New York Times, Nate Silver broke down the win probabilities of the Red Sox and Rays, and, when multiplied together, the chances that Wednesday night played out like it did--with two playoff teams winning and losing on walkoffs, were 1 in 278 million.

First, you look at the Red Sox. On September 3rd, with the Sox in first place, the odds of them making the MLB playoffs were 99.6 perecent. Then, against the Orioles in a must-win game Wednesday night, the Red Sox led until the final strike of the ninth inning, and their odds of winning were somewhere in the neighborhood of 98%.

And then you have the Rays... They were down 7-0 as late as the 8th inning, when they had just .3 percent chance of winning. Then, even after the comeback, they were down to their last strike with Dan Johnson, a career .108 hitter who was just 1 for 45 in situations with two strikes. The odds of them winning at that point were just 2 percent.

Coming up with the probabilities is an inexact science, but when you multiply all the factors together, the numbers reinforce what most sports fans knew Wednesday night--we'd just witnessed one of the most incredible nights in baseball history.

  • The Red Sox had just a 0.3 percent chance of failing to make the playoffs on Sept. 3.
  • The Rays had just a 0.3 percent chance of coming back after trailing 7-0 with two innings to play.
  • The Red Sox had only about a 2 percent chance of losing their game against Baltimore, when the Orioles were down to their last strike.
  • The Rays had about a 2 percent chance of winning in the bottom of the 9th, with Johnson also down to his last strike.
  • Multiply those four probabilities together, and you get a combined probability of about one chance in 278 million of all these events coming together in quite this way.

    It's a reminder that no matter what, real life always trumps even the craziest of Hollywood scripts. And more than anything, it reminds us why we watch sports. Every now and then, you get one of those one in a million 278 million nights like Wednesday, and the whole thing just blows your mind.

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    Red Sox Vs. Orioles: Baltimore Happy To Send Boston Home 'Sad, Crying'

    The Baltimore Orioles were out of the playoff race for quite awhile, but that didn't stop them from playing hard in the final game of the MLB regular season in an effort to force the Boston Red Sox to also miss out on playing in October. And, frankly, the Orioles were happy to send the Red Sox home the way they did.

    The player that seems happiest about helping end Boston's season is the same guy that effectively ended Boston's season in the bottom of the ninth inning.

    "End of season like this - (to) make Boston go home sad, crying - I'll take it all day," Robert Andino, the player that drove in the game-winning run with a line drive Carl Crawford couldn't get under, told the Baltimore Sun after the game.

    Andino apparently takes a special sort of pride in beating up on the Red Sox as Wednesday night's game wasn't the first time he came up in the clutch again Boston. His manager, though, was a bit caring in his post-game comments.

    "I can't believe what Boston must be going through emotionally right now. We understand that there's another side to this," Buck Showalter said. "Baseball is a cruel game."

    A cruel game indeed -- especially when one team can take solace in winning for no other reason than sending the other home sad and crying.

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    Rays Vs. Yankees: Evan Longoria Blasts Walk-Off Home Run, Tampa Wins Wild Card

    Look, I don't even...there's no way I'm going to be able to do a good job with this. This was probably the most exciting night of baseball in history. Let me just give you the details.

    We've already covered the Rays' comeback from trailing 7-0 in the eighth inning. That was improbable enough. Dan Johnson lined a pinch-hit, two-out, two-strike solo homer in the ninth to knot things up and force extras.

    But forcing extras isn't the same as a win, and the Rays still had work to do yet. All the while, they were looking at the scoreboard and seeing Boston on top of Baltimore 3-2. As thrilling as it was to come back, the Rays couldn't afford to reflect on what they'd done.

    The game settled down in the tenth. Both the Yankees and Rays got runners aboard, but both the Yankees and Rays stranded them. In the 11th, the Rays threatened by getting two aboard with one down, but Sean Rodriguez and Desmond Jennings hit into easy outs to advance the game to the 12th.

    That's where it looked like the Rays were in trouble (again). With Boston still leading, Greg Golson led off with a single, and then Eric Chavez followed with another single to put runners on the corners with nobody out.

    But Jake McGee got Jorge Posada to hit a slow roller to third, where Evan Longoria tagged Golson out. Chris Dickerson then whiffed, and Brett Gardner rolled over on a grounder to second to end the threat.

    So it was still 7-7 going into the bottom of the 12th. And it was around then that the Tampa Bay crowd learned that Jonathan Papelbon had blown the save in Baltimore, and that the Red Sox had lost 4-3. All of a sudden, where minutes earlier it looked like the Rays were on the verge of being eliminated, one run was all the Rays needed to win the Wild Card outright.

    It didn't take long. Scott Proctor struck out B.J. Upton, but then Longoria stood in, and on the sixth pitch, Longoria pulled a drive down the left field line that just escaped, and just stayed fair. It was virtually identical to Dan Johnson's solo shot in the ninth, only down the opposite line, and with this drive, the Rays won.

    Longoriahr_medium 

    The Rays won.

    There will be no baseball on Thursday. After today, it really doesn't matter.

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    Orioles Vs. Red Sox: Papelbon Blows Save, O's Win 4-3 In Ninth

    Where does one begin?

    Before Wednesday night, Jonathan Papelbon had given up only one earned run in Baltimore in his entire career.

    Wednesday night, the Red Sox owned a 3-2 lead after six-and-a-half innings, when the rains came. Play resumed after a long delay, and Boston's relievers held the Orioles scoreless through the seventh and eighth.

    The Red Sox mounted a threat in the seventh, but were stymied when Marco Scutaro was thrown out trying to score on Carl Crawford's double. They mounted a bigger threat in the eighth, but were stymied when rookie Ryan Lavarnway grounded into a bases-loaded, inning-ending double play.

    But they still had that one-run lead, and one of the game's best closers coming out of the bullpen.

    Jonathan Papelbon had thrown 29 pitches Tuesday night, but he struck out Adam Jones and he struck out Mark Reynolds, leaving only prime strikeout candidate Chris Davis between the Boston Red Sox and at least one more day of baseball (pending events in St. Petersburg).

    Chris Davis doubled into the right-field corner. Nolan Reimold took a couple of balls, then took a couple of swings that missed. Papelbon's fifth pitch, though? Reimold hammered that one into the gap in right-center, where it one-hopped over the fence for an automatic double, pinch-runner Kyle Hudson trotting home.

    That tied the game.

    Three pitches later, Red Sox-killer Robert Andino shot a sinking liner into left field. Carl Crawford looked like he had a shot at making a sliding catch ...

    Crawfordbotches_medium

    but the ball glanced off his glove and Reimold touched the plate in plenty of time to dash the Hopes of New England.

    Those Hopes were snuffed out just seconds later when Evan Longoria's home run in St. Pete eliminated the Red Sox and propelled the Rays into the postseason for the third time in four seasons.

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    Orioles Vs. Red Sox: Papelbon In To Protect 3-2 Lead

    It's been a night of amazings and delays and extra innings, with the Red Sox and Orioles waiting out an hour-and-twenty-five-minutes rain delay. While the Sox were waiting, they were undoubtedly in the clubhouse watching the Rays mount their amazing comeback against the Yankees, the ultimate impact of which still isn't known.

    After the rain delay, Alfredo Aceves got himself into some seventh-inning trouble by hitting two Orioles with pitches, but got himself out of it. The Red Sox almost added an insurance run in the eighth, but Marco Scutaro was out trying to score on Carl Crawford's double. In the bottom of the eighth, Daniel Bard needed only nine pitches to dispatch Baltimore.

    The Red Sox mounted another threat in the ninth, and again they were denied, with Ryan Lavarnway grounding into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded.

    Which brought Papelbon from the bullpen, with the Sox clinging to a one-run lead and the Rays trying to beat the Yankees in the bottom of the 11th. Stay tuned!

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    Orioles Vs. Red Sox: Game On After Rain Delay, Into Ninth Inning

    While some American League fans watch extra innings in Tampa, waiting for a result in the Yankees vs. Rays game, the game between the Red Sox and Orioles at Camden Yards in Baltimore has resumed after a rain delay of one hour and 25 minutes.

    When the game was delayed by a severe thunderstorm that blew through Baltimore, the Red Sox had a 3-2 lead over the Orioles in the bottom of the seventh inning.

    Now the game is complete through eight innings with Boston still leading 3-2; Marco Scutaro attempted to score in the top of the eighth on a double by Carl Crawford, but was thrown out at the plate to keep Boston’s lead at just one run.

    If the Red Sox hold on and win, they can do no worse than a one-game playoff for the American League Wild Card, which would be held Thursday in Tampa, if the Rays can defeat the Yankees.

    What a night, and it’s not over yet.

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    Dan Johnson's No Stranger To Dramatic Home Runs

    Entering Wednesday's night's sort-of-important game against the New York Yankees, Dan Johnson had arguably hit the  most dramatic home run in franchise history.

    In 2008, Johnson joined the Tampa Bay organization after being waived in April by the Athletics. Johnson spent the entire summer with triple-A Durham before finally getting the call on the 8th of September. By then the Rays were well into their (by some accounts) miraculous, worst-to-first season. Johnson joined the club just in time for a game against the Red Sox, who trailed the first-place Rays by one-half of one game.

    Johnson started at first base, and the Rays carried a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning. But with two outs, the Red Sox mounted a rally that culminated in Jason Bay's two-run homer. It was exactly the sort of thing that's supposed to happen to upstarts like the Rays when playing in Fenway Park.

    In the top of the ninth, Johnson led off against Jonathan Papelbon.

    Papelbon threw five pitches. Johnson didn't remove the bat from his shoulder. The sixth pitch was a fastball to Johnson's liking, and a stunned crowd watched the baseball fly beyond the bullpens in right-center field. The game was tied, and the Rays went on to win that game and the American League East, edging the Red Sox by two games.

    Since then it's been a strange road for Johnson, who spent a season in Japan and hasn't been able to lock down a job with the Rays, even as they've been desperate for power bats. This season he'd played in 30 games, and hit exactly one home run.

    Until tonight. When he hit the new most dramatic home run in franchise history.

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    Rays Vs. Yankees: Dan Johnson Home Run Caps Unbelievable Rally

    Dan Johnson. Dan #&@%ing Johnson.

    Behind 7-0 in the bottom of the eighth, the Rays made a game of this by scoring six runs. Even so, they were still trailing the Yankees 7-6 in the ninth, and a deficit is a deficit. At that point, the Rays were still staring at slim odds of winning, or even extending the game.

    But the Yankees went down 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth. That helped. Then in the bottom, they called on Cory Wade instead of Mariano Rivera. That also helped.

    Wade, though, is no slouch, and he retired both Ben Zobrist and Casey Kotchman to start off. Joe Maddon then sent Dan Johnson to the plate to pinch-hit for Sam Fuld, but Johnson came in with a .334 OPS. A .334 OPS. You read that right. Dan Johnson came in with a .334 OPS.

    Johnson fell behind 1-and-2 in the count. At 2-and-2, Johnson fouled off a fastball, but then Wade threw Johnson a changeup he could handle. Johnson pulled a low line drive down the right field line, and barely, impossibly, it cleared the fence and stayed within the foul pole. It even hit a guy in the junk. Down to the last strike, Dan Johnson came up with a pinch-hit solo homer, and the Rays caught the Yankees 7-7.

    Wade got out of the inning, but we're into extras now, and I can't even begin to explain how amazing this has been. 7-0. 7-6. Last strike. 7-7. More baseball.

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    Rays Vs. Yankees: Evan Longoria Punctuates Massive Tampa Rally

    The Tampa Bay Rays didn't score in the first. They didn't score in the second. They didn't score in the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, or the seventh. All the while, the New York Yankees scored seven times. Headed into the bottom of the eighth, the Rays were playing against a lot of Yankee scrubs and backups, but they were still losing 7-0, so one could argue that these fans were entirely justified:

    Raysfansleaving

    Welllllllp.

    The bottom of the eighth began innocently enough, with Johnny Damon blooping a single just behind short. Ben Zobrist followed with a double, but even there, we're talking about two baserunners in a seven-run game. Not important.

    Then Boone Logan hit Casey Kotchman. Not only did the HBP load the bases - the ball caromed off Kotchman and hit Jesus Montero in the hand. Montero grabbed at his hand in pain and had to be removed, along with Logan, who was replaced by Luis Ayala.

    Ayala didn't help. He walked pinch-hitter Sam Fuld to force in a run. He hit Sean Rodriguez to force in another run. Three batters and two outs later, Ayala faced Evan Longoria with two on and the score 7-3, and Longoria pounded a first-pitch fastball deep into the left field seats, bringing the fans who remained to their feet. All of a sudden, impossibly, the Rays were right back in the game, with a six-run eighth reducing the deficit to one.

    On top of everything, John Jaso followed Longoria's homer with a single and pinch-runner Elliot Johnson stole second to put the tying run in scoring position. Johnson, though, was stranded when Damon - who began the inning with a single - popped out.

    So the Rays didn't come all the way back. But they came most of the way back, and now they're staring at a much more manageable 7-6 ninth-inning deficit. And they probably won't even have to face Mariano Rivera. Baseball!

    I bet the Red Sox are having fun watching this during their rain delay.

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    Orioles Vs. Red Sox: Rain Delay May Last A While

    Here’s what the Baltimore-area radar looked like at 9:55 p.m. ET:

    The bright reds and oranges are the ones heading toward the center of Baltimore, where Camden Yards is located and where the Red Sox and Orioles are waiting out a rain delay in the bottom of the seventh inning with the Red Sox leading 3-2.

    With the Rays losing, all the Red Sox have to do is complete the win and they are the AL wild card.

    In fairness to the Rays, MLB really has to wait hours and hours and hours before they call this game, even though it has passed the point of being an official game. If the score were 7-0 as it is in Tampa, that would be another story; but in a one-run game the Orioles should be given the full nine innings to try to come back and win.

    It says here that they’ll wait till the early hours of the morning before they call this one — and they’ll make every effort to finish.

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    Rays Vs. Yankees: New York Still Up A Touchdown Through Six

    Look: I don't think it's going to happen. Not here. The Rays are behind by far too much. Even though their game isn't over, and even though they aren't facing the Yankees' A-team, we're talking about seven runs and nine outs. It's incredibly unlikely, which is why Rays fans need to be pulling harder for the Orioles than ever.

    Facing Phil Hughes in the bottom of the fifth, the Rays got their leadoff batter on board, but stranded him. Then in the sixth, facing Raul Valdes, they got two runners on board, but stranded them, when Kelly Shoppach fouled out. Through six innings, the Rays hitters have just two hits to their name, and though they also have five walks and a HBP, it's plain to see that David Price hasn't been the only problem. You need to hit and pitch to win, and the Rays have done neither.

    They still have three innings to go, but, again, 7-0. I can't even pretend that this is in any way close. It's a blowout, at the worst possible time. The Rays could use some dingers!

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    Orioles Vs. Red Sox: Rain Delay In Seventh Inning, Sox Still Lead 3-2

    Jon Lester's out of the game after six innings and 93 pitches, and exits with his club ahead 3-2 in a game that might clinch the American League Wild Card for the Boston Red Sox.

    But such a clinching, should it happen, will be delayed for a stretch. Because at 9:33 Eastern, heavy rains compelled the umpires to stop the game and order the groundskeepers to cover the infield.

    It's obviously an official game, but Major League Baseball holds the reins of this contest, and MLB will do everything humanly possible to play this game to its natural -- that is, nine innings -- conclusion. And while there's definitely severe weather in the area, it's not a huge storm and figures to blow over well before things get seriously late.

    Screen_shot_2011-09-28_at_8

    Well, it's not a small storm. But MLB will wait all night if they have to. When play does resume, Alfredo Aceves -- already announced as Lester's relief and Boston's most reliable hurler in recent weeks -- presumably will pitch against the bottom third of the Orioles' lineup, beginning with Mark Reynolds.

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    Orioles Vs. Red Sox: Circus Double Play Keeps Sox Ahead

    Marco Scutaro's coming up big in the Red Sox' biggest game of the season.

    In the fourth inning, he doubled and eventually scored after coercing Alfredo Simon into a balk.

    In the fifth inning, Scutaro cut down the tying runner at the plate with a perfectly adequate throw to catcher Ryan Lavarnway.

    But Scutaro topped those feats in the sixth.

    With Red Sox starter Jon Lester still on the mound, J.J. Hardy led off with a walk, marking his third time on base. Lester walked Nick Markakis too, and the Sox were in a serious jam with Vladimir Guerrero due next.

    Then this happened:

    Pedroiadp

    In case you've misplaced your reading glasses, Scutaro snared Guerrero's grounder, and shoveled the ball perfectly to Dustin Pedroia, who was standing on second base and relayed to Adrian Gonzalez to complete what just might have been a season-saving double play.

    But the Sox weren't out of the woods yet, because with Hardy on third, Lester walked Matt Wieters ... but ultimately struck out Adam Jones on a curveball in the dirt with his 93rd pitch.

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    Rays Vs. Yankees: Andruw Jones Joins In, New York Adds On

    Having surrendered six runs through four innings on an incredible 97 pitches, David Price was replaced by Juan Cruz to begin the top of the fifth. Price's outing began with a bit of misfortune, as an unearned run scored on an error in the first, but Price subsequently allowed a grand slam in the second and a solo homer in the fourth, so it's not like he isn't largely to blame for the Rays' present mess. He walked three, and struck out three.

    Cruz inherited a 6-0 deficit and shortly allowed it to grow to a 7-0 deficit. With one down, Cruz fell behind Andruw Jones and threw a high, inside fastball that Jones turned on, sending a towering fly ball down the left field line. The ball stayed fair by just a few feet and went for a solo homer - New York's third homer of the game.

    Cruz retired the other hitters, but now it's a seven-run game at the midway point, and Tropicana Field is so quiet you'd think it was any other regular season game at Tropicana Field. Phil Hughes is on to work the bottom of the fifth for the Yankees, in relief of Aaron Laffey.

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    Orioles Vs. Red Sox: Red Sox 3, Orioles 2 After 5 Innings

    Maybe it was the 21-minute break between the bottom of the fourth and the bottom of the fifth, during which the Red Sox went ahead 3-2 on Dustin Pedroia’s laser blast into the left-field stands.

    Maybe it was simply more of the lack of sharpness that’s afflicted Jon Lester in his previous three starts.

    Either way, Lester was greeted in the bottom of the fifth by Mark Reynolds’ double off the wall in right field. Reynolds moved to third on a grounder to second base. But with the infield drawn in, Nolan Reimold slapped a grounder toward shortstop Marco Scutaro. Reynolds was running on contact, and Scutaro’s throw home was good enough to nail the runner on a play that wasn’t particularly close.

    Lester escaped the inning by retiring leadoff man Robert Andino on another easy grounder to Scutaro. With the Rays getting blown out by the Yankees and their Amazing Corps of Second String Relief Pitchers, you might forgive the Red Sox and their fans for starting to think about October …

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    Rays Vs. Yankees: Mark Teixeira Strikes Again, Now 6-0 New York

    Not that the difference between a five-run deficit and a six-run deficit is all that big, but from a psychological standpoint, the Rays really didn't need the top of the fourth to happen the way it did.

    David Price came out looking to find some sort of groove and hold the score where it was, and it looked like he might succeed. He got Derek Jeter to pop out. He struck out Curtis Granderson with a perfectly placed outside fastball. There were two out and none on when Price faced Mark Teixeira for the third time.

    But Price missed outside with a first-pitch fastball, and when he tried to come in, Teixeira turned on the pitch and did what he did earlier:

    Priceteixeira_medium

    Teixeira launched a deep solo home run down the left field line. Ignore the scoreboard in the image - the homer extended the Yankees' lead to 6-0. It wasn't even so much that Price made a mistake; Teixeira is just a really good hitter, turns out.

    Desperately looking to climb back into the contest, the Rays sent four batters to the plate against Aaron Laffey in the bottom half. One of them got hit. The other three made outs. And so the score remains 6-0 New York with four in the books.

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    Orioles Vs. Red Sox: Pedroia's Homer Gives Red Sox 3-2 Lead

    Like I said earlier, Dustin Pedroia eats up fastballs.

    In the third inning, he ripped one of Alfredo Simon's high mid-90s fastballs up the middle to give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead.

    A short-lived lead, as things transpired.

    In the fifth inning, Pedroia did himself one better. This time Simon's fastball was higher and insider, but not quite as faster, and Pedroia lined the pitch into the left-field stands to give the Red Sox a 3-2 lead.

    Message: Don't throw Dustin Pedroia high fastballs unless they've got hellacious movement. Which Alfredo Simon's don't.

    David Ortiz followed Pedroia with a line drive off the right-field scoreboard, hit so hard that Ortiz had to stop at first base with the proverbial long single. That was enough for Buck Showalter, who walked to the mound and summoned left-handed reliever Troy Patton to face Adrian Gonzalez, with one out and Ortiz on first base.

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    Rays Vs. Yankees: New York Holds 5-0 Lead After Three

    Mark Teixeira slugged a potentially back-breaking grand slam off David Price in the top of the second to put the Yankees on top of the Rays 5-0. Since then, we've seen some changes, but only on the mound.

    Dellin Betances pitched a scoreless second, working around a Casey Kotchman single and inducing a Reid Brignac lineout to end it. David Price returned to the mound for the third and immediately allowed a hard-hit double, putting the Yankees in position to add to their lead even more, but Price managed to strand Nick Swisher on the bases by retiring the side.

    In the bottom of the third, Joe Girardi called on his bullpen, replacing Betances with some guy named George Kontos after Betances threw 44 pitches. Just 23 of those 44 pitches were strikes, so Betances wasn't particularly good, but he was better than he was in his debut, and he kept the Rays off the board.

    Kontos promptly walked Desmond Jennings, and after he retired the next two batters, Girardi replaced Kontos with southpaw Aaron Laffey to face lefty Matt Joyce with a runner in scoring position. Joyce popped out on the first pitch, and the inning was over.

    Through three, the Yankees are on their third pitcher, but they still hold a 5-0 lead. There's still a lot of time for the Rays, but they probably shouldn't procrastinate.

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    Orioles Vs. Red Sox: Red Sox Tie Orioles 2-2 With Balk

    Just moments after J.J. Hardy put the Orioles ahead with a two-run homer in the bottom of the third inning, the Red Sox tied the score when Alfredo Simon balked with Marco Scutaro on third base.

    Mike Aviles followed the book with a grounder that skipped past Orioles third baseman Chris Davis for an error, but the inning ended when Aviles was nabbed trying to steal second base.

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    O's 2, Sox 1: J.J. Hardy Answers With 2-Run Homer

    No sooner had the Red Sox taken a 1-0 lead in the top of the third inning -- while the Yankees were going way ahead of the Rays down in Florida -- than Jon Lester gave the lead right away.

    Chris Davis led off the bottom of the third inning with a walk. After a fielder's choice and another ground-out, Nolan Reimold stood on second base with two outs, with J.J. Hardy due next.

    Lester's first pitch to Hardy was a cut fastball, which was supposed to start on the inner half of the plate before coming inside and busting Hardy's bat. Instead it started in the middle of the plate and broke right into Hardy's happy zone, and he blasted the pitch over the left-field fence for a two-run homer and a 2-1 lead.

    This game's all about the Red Sox (and secondarily, the Rays). But can't we spare a moment to applaud J.J. Hardy, who's now hit 30 home runs this season, after hitting only six homers last season and 11 the season before?

    Hardy, once considered one of the National League's best shortstops, can now make the same claim in the American League.

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    Rays Vs. Yankees: Mark Teixeira Grand Slam Blows Things Open

    One and a half innings. It's only been one and a half innings. But already, it's looking like Rays fans might have to put their faith in Alfredo Simon and the Baltimore Orioles, because the situation in St. Petersburg has turned ugly.

    In the top of the second, B.J. Upton robbed Jesus Montero of a hit with a sliding catch on fake turf that had to just eat him up. One could've interpreted that as a positive omen for the Rays, or a negative omen for the Rays, given that Montero had hit a line drive and all.

    We may retroactively see it as a negative omen. The next batter - Eduardo Nunez - blasted a double to the gap. Brandon Laird then singled, and Derek Jeter drew a walk to load the bases with only one out.

    David Price successfully induced a pop-out from Curtis Granderson, and at that point it looked like the Rays might be able to escape major damage. But against Mark Teixeira, the count ran full, and Price left a fastball in the center of the plate that Teixeira deposited elsewhere. I think this gets the message across:

    Pricegs_medium

    Price retired Robinson Cano, but the grand slam turned this into a 5-0 Yankees lead. Yes, the Yankees are pitching a bunch of relievers. Yes, the Yankees will presumably end up pulling many of their starters. But five runs is five runs, and oh by the way, the Red Sox are winning. The Rays need to score, and they need to score now.

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    Third Inning Update: Red Sox 1, Orioles 0

    Fill-in third baseman Mike Aviles led off the top of the third inning with a walk, and MVP candidate Jacoby Ellsbury followed with a line-drive single to left field that pushed Aviles to second base and brought Dustin Pedroia to the plate.

    Orioles starter Alfredo Simon's stock-in-trade is a mid-90s fastball, but of course Dustin Pedroia gobbles up mid-90s fastballs like so many M&Ms. Simon tried to get ahead with a fastball down the middle, and Pedroia took the pitch right back into center field, with Aviles scoring easily.

    Big Papi came up next with a chance to give the Sox a 4-0 lead; instead he grounded into a 5-4-3 double play, Ellsbury moving to third base. And after Adrian Gonzalez was intentionally passed, Simon struck out rookie catcher Ryan Lavarnway to end the threat and keep the local proceedings in serious doubt.

    Meanwhile, during Lavarnway's at-bat, everyone at Oriole Park learned about the Yankees taking a 5-0 lead over the Rays in St. Petersburg...

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    Red Sox, Orioles Scoreless After Two Innings

    Jon Lester, looking to continue his long history of success against the Orioles, has matched Alfredo Simon with two scoreless innings.

    In the first inning, Lester gave up a one-out double to J.J. Hardy but escaped with no further damage. And in the second, Lester gave up an infield single to Adam Jones, but got an inning-ending, around-the-horn double play when Mark Reynolds sent a grounder toward Red Sox third baseman Mike Aviles.

    Historically, third basemen who start inning-ending double plays typically lead off the next inning with walks, which is exactly what Aviles did, setting up Boston’s top of the order for a big inning. Stay tuned …

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    Rays Vs. Yankees: Dellin Betances Survives Shaky First

    In his major league debut last Thursday, Dellin Betances recorded two outs. He also walked four guys, hit another, and threw just seven of 27 pitches for strikes. Rookies are entitled to have ugly debuts, what with nerves and all, but one had to wonder how Betances would look today, starting against the Rays in a big game (albeit not a big game for him).

    Well, we're one inning in, and Betances has successfully recorded more outs than he did the first time. Granted, it wasn't easy. He walked B.J. Upton. He walked Evan Longoria. He fell behind all five batters he faced. But after there were two on and one out, he struck out both Matt Joyce and Johnny Damon looking with breaking balls to keep the Rays off the board.

    There was action in the Yankee bullpen, and Betances threw 24 pitches. He probably isn't long for this game. But the Yankees didn't expect him to last long. For Betances, it's all about learning experiences, and I'm guessing that he's learning.

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    Kevin Youkilis Won't Play Again In 2011

    It's semi-official: Kevin Youkilis won't play again in 2011, whatever happens to the Red Sox this week.

    From Joe McDonald (via ESPNBoston.com):

    Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein announced Wednesday night that Youkilis was placed on the 60-day disabled list as the corresponding move to the team's activation of right-handed pitcher Clay Buchholz from the 60-day DL.

    Youkilis is suffering from a sports hernia, has bursitis in his hip and will need offseason surgery, but he was hoping to play through the pain in order to help the Sox but that seems unlikely at this point.

    Fortunately, the Red Sox have a highly competitive lineup even without Youkilis. Still, considering their pitching woes, their best chance in the postseason -- assuming, of course, that they actually qualify for the postseason -- would seem to be a formula that includes pounding out lots of runs in every game not started by Josh Beckett or Jon Lester. Which will be just a bit more difficult without the Greek God of Line Drives in the lineup.

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    Rays Vs. Yankees: Ben Zobrist Error Puts New York On Top

    We're underway in front of a packed but not capacity crowd in St. Petersburg, and it didn't take long for the New York Yankees to establish an early advantage over the Tampa Bay Rays.

    And more, they couldn't have done it without the Rays' help. David Price got off to a good start when he froze Derek Jeter with a fastball. Curtis Granderson, though, followed with a bloop single, and stole second after Mark Teixeira flew out. That brought Robinson Cano to the plate with two down and a runner in scoring position, and after an eight-pitch battle, this happened:

    Zobristerror

    Ben Zobrist flubbed a routine grounder, allowing Granderson to come around to score. Instead of there being three outs, it was 1-0 New York.

    It could've been worse. After the error, Nick Swisher walked, but Price retired Andruw Jones to end the frame. Still, with the error leading to a run and several extra pitches...it feels stupid to say, but this isn't how the Rays wanted to start. I'm so profound.

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    Red Sox Go Down Meekly In First

    In the top of the first, Boston’s only highlight came when David Ortiz, down 0-and-2 in the count, took a couple of close pitches for balls and wound up drawing a walk. But Adrian Gonzalez followed with a looping liner up the middle the Orioles turned into an easy fielder’s choice to retire Ortiz at second base.

    Baltimore starter Alfredo Simon hasn’t pitched well this season, but there’s no denying his stuff, as he peppered Red Sox hitters with mid-90s fastballs, his stock in trade.

    Meanwhile, Jon Lester has taken the mound for the Red Sox in the bottom of the first. The words “awesome” and “amazing” are thrown around too lightly, but they’re perfectly appropriate to describe Lester’s previous performance against the Orioles. In 17 career starts against them, Lester’s 14-0 with a 2.33 ERA.

    Of course, he hasn’t pitched that well against anyone lately. Which might be said of almost every Red Sox pitcher…

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    Injury-Depleted Red Sox Lineup Includes Strange Names

    While Orioles manager Buck Showalter has his best players at his disposal and in the lineup for Wednesday night's all-important contest, Red Sox manager Terry Francona has been forced to do some scrambling.

    Francona's lineup against Baltimore right-hander Alfredo Simon:

    1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
    2. 2B Dustin Pedroia
    3. DH David Ortiz
    4. 1B Adrian Gonzalez
    5. C Ryan Lavarnway
    6. RF J.D. Drew
    7. SS Marco Scutaro
    8. LF Carl Crawford
    9. 3B Mike Aviles

    Third baseman Kevin Youkilis? Out.

    Shortstop Jed Lowrie? Out.

    Catchers Jason Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia? Out.

    Scutaro's certainly accustomed to playing shortstop, but Aviles has started only 43 games at third base in his major-league career. And Lavarnway's a story in himself; Tuesday night, the rookie hit the first two home runs of his career while starting behind the plate for the very first time.

    Don't feel too sorry for the Red Sox, who have four outstanding hitters in their lineup and are facing a home-prone starting pitcher with a 4.85 ERA.

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    Rays Vs. Yankees: New York Starting Lineup

    We've given you the Rays' starting lineup, and now it's time to see what Joe Girardi will put up against it. Hint: a really really good starting lineup.

    Derek Jeter, SS
    Curtis Granderson, CF
    Mark Teixeira, 1B
    Robinson Cano, DH
    Nick Swisher, RF
    Andruw Jones, LF
    Jesus Montero, C
    Eduardo Nunez, 2B
    Brandon Laird, 3B

    This lineup originally included Alex Rodriguez playing third in place of Laird, but Rodriguez was a late scratch due to issues with his knee. Girardi wasn't intending to go with a scrub, but he's been given no choice.

    Jones is playing left instead of Brett Gardner because the Yankees are going up against the left-handed and very tough David Price. Jones can't compete with Gardner's defense, but he does have a .937 OPS against southpaws on the year, so it's not like he represents a huge downgrade.

    Montero will be making just his third start behind the plate since being promoted. Both Russell Martin and Jorge Posada, obviously, are on the bench. Again, though, Montero brings an awful lot to the table, so it's not like his presence makes the Yankees an easier foe.

    What remains to be seen is how long most of these players stay in the game. Girardi won't want to pull them all immediately, but then he's also going to be weighing competitiveness against injury risk, and it's not like he really has a dog in the Rays/Red Sox race. Not to such a degree as to influence his decision-making.

    The Yankees will start Dellin Betances on the mound, and follow him with a bunch of relievers. Betances has appeared in one major league game - against the Rays, as it happens - and he threw seven strikes out of 27 pitches. This could be a long game.

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    Baltimore's Lineup Loaded With Regulars

    Buck Showalter's posted his lineup tonight, as the Orioles host the Red Sox in a game that means the world to Boston and probably means something to Baltimore, too. Going against Red Sox starter Jon Lester:

    2B Robert Andino
    SS J.J. Hardy
    RF Nick Markakis
    DH Vladimir Guerrero
    C Matt Wieters
    CF Adam Jones
    1B Mark Reynolds
    3B Chris Davis
    LF Nolan Reimold

    No surprises here, as manager Buck Showalter has been going with most of these guys since Davis joined the Orioles in a deadline deal at the end of July.

    As it happens, Davis might be the Orioles' worst hitter in this evening's lineup. While nobody on the roster has done brilliantly this season, virtually all of the regulars have been at least competent, and Baltimore's lousy record is due to pitching and an anemic bench rather than the every-day players. These guys might not be great, but they're not pushovers and the O's are seventh in the American League in scoring this season.

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    Rays Vs. Yankees: Tampa Bay Starting Lineup

    We're almost set to get this unexpectedly incredible final Wednesday underway, but before we get to the action, it's worth going over the lineups. Against Dellin Betances and a host of Yankees relievers, Joe Maddon and the Rays will start the following:

    Desmond Jennings, LF
    B.J. Upton, CF
    Evan Longoria, 3B
    Matt Joyce, RF
    Johnny Damon, DH
    Ben Zobrist, 2B
    Casey Kotchman, 1B
    Kelly Shoppach, C
    Reid Brignac, SS

    Kotchman is back in there after missing Tuesday's action while going on a trip to the hospital. Not for fun, either - he went there for precautionary tests on his heart, which thankfully turned out negative.

    Outside of Kotchman, the Rays' lineup hasn't changed from yesterday. Sean Rodriguez will be available off the bench, and he's a handy piece given his defensive flexibility and present, albeit modest, power. One should expect, though, that the Rays' regulars will probably last the whole game. Which should make Maddon's job a little easier.

    The Rays will start David Price. There are worse guys to have starting a game this important.

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    If Not Bruce Chen Thursday, Then Who?

    Remember all that Super Fun Talk about the Red Sox trading for Bruce Chen, just in case they have to play the Rays tomorrow in a one-game playoff?

    Apparently we're not going to be that lucky.

    Source: #RedSox have given up trying to make trade for starting pitcher. Should there be play-in game, starter will come from within.
    Sep 28 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

     

    What does "from within" mean, exactly?

    Josh Beckett, Erik Bedard and Jon Lester will all be unavailable. The Red Sox' other starters lately have been John Lackey and Tim Wakefield, both of whom have struggled badly in their recent outings. Other options include Alfredo Aceves, Andrew Miller and Kyle Weiland, with Weiland -- a rookie with a 7.66 ERA -- perhaps the longest of long shots.

    Aceves is 10-2 with a 2.63 ERA, but he's started only four games all season and he threw 36 pitches in a long relief outing Tuesday night.

    Given his lack of attractive options -- there was a reason for all the Bruce Chen talk -- Terry Francona will probably just toss all those names into a hat, hope for three or four good innings, then work through his bullpen and hope for the best.

    Continue

    Pitching Favors Rays vs. Yankees In Game 162

    In tonight's contest between the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees that will go a long way toward determining the American League Wild Card, the Rays will send co-ace David Price to the mound.

    The Yankees, not so much. While they're playing most of their lineup regulars, manager Joe Girardi's not taking any chances with his key pitchers. From David Waldstein in The New York Times:

    ... the Yankees did not have a clear-cut choice for Wednesday’s starting pitcher and opted to give 23-year-old Dellin Betances the ball. Betances is a top pitching prospect, but going into Wednesday’s game he had exactly two innings of major league experience, both of them coming last week in mop-up duty against the Rays in a game at Yankee Stadium.

    Betances, a 23-year-old right-hander who throws real hard, spent most of this season with Double-A Trenton, where he struck out a bunch of guys but also walked a bunch of guys. If the Rays are patient, they should get some good pitches to hit.

    Of course, Betances isn't going to throw many pitches or many innings, no matter how well he does. After three or four innings, Girardi's going to deploy a parade of relievers, perhaps none of whom are slated for the Yankees' postseason roster. Which should do lovely things for Tampa Bay's hitters.

    The Yankees are currently carrying 19 pitchers on their active roster; following Betances, we'll probably see the likes of Andrew Brackman, George Kontos, Scott Proctor, Raul Valdes, Aaron Laffey, and Phil Hughes.

    Prediction: Rays 8, Yankees 3.

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    Red Sox Vs. Orioles, AL Wild Card Preview: Time, TV Schedule And More

    Boston has been in a tailspin, but can still guarantee nothing less than a one-game playoff in the AL Wild Card race with a win over the lowly Orioles.

    Continue

    Yankees Vs. Rays, AL Wild Card Preview: Time, TV Schedule And More

    The Rays are looking to complete an improbable AL Wild Card comeback on Wednesday. And they'll have David Price on the bump against the Yankees.

    Continue
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