It’s just gone seven a.m. and while I’m tired I know there is little chance that I will be able to fall asleep again any time soon.
My head is still spinning from the most incredible end to an MLB regular season you could imagine. The lack of sleep isn’t helping with my futile attempt to take it all in, but even if I was wide awake, I would still be shaking my head with disbelief and wondering if this has really happened.
In the early hours of Thursday, the Tampa Bay Rays somehow snatched the American League Wild Card from the Boston Red Sox.
At approximately 3 a.m. BST, the Rays were all but finished. The Red Sox led the Baltimore Orioles 3-2, while the Rays trailed 7-0 to the New York Yankees. As rain stopped play in Baltimore, the Red Sox were able to sit and watch as their potentially devastating September slide appeared to be coming to a happy conclusion.
It was also looking more hopeful for the Atlanta Braves. They had joined the Red Sox in tossing away a healthy Wild Card lead over recent weeks. Although the St. Louis Cardinals, their rivals for the NL Wild Card, were on their way to a comfortable win over the Houston Astros, Atlanta were leading the Philadelphia Phillies 3-2. It looked as though the two teams would end the regular season with the same win-loss record, setting up a single-game showdown on Thursday.
Gradually, these likely scenarios were unravelled.
The Braves’ Craig Kimbrel coughed up their lead in the ninth inning to take the game into extras. Meanwhile the Rays were mounting a rally in the bottom of the eighth inning. Three runs had crossed the plate before Evan Longoria hit a three-run homer at approximately 3.20 a.m. to bring the Rays within one run. Twenty minutes later, that outburst was looking like a gallant but ultimately futile attempt to rescue their Wild Card dreams.
The Rays were down to their final strike when Dan Johnson hit a line drive down the left-field line that narrowly cleared the fence to tie the game at 7-7. Maybe it would be their night after all?
By 4.15, the teams were back out on the diamond in Baltimore, shredding any plans the Red Sox had to celebrate a rain-shortened win. The Rays were battling in the bottom of the tenth inning, while the Braves had Jayson Heyward at third base ready and waiting to score the winning run in the bottom of the twelfth inning.
Heyward was left stranded and less than half an hour later the Braves were trudging back to their clubhouse wondering where it had all gone so horribly wrong.
A Hunter Pence single brought home the go-ahead run for the Phillies in the top of the thirteenth inning and at twenty to five, Freddie Freeman grounded into a game-ending double play. The Cardinals’ exceptional late season form had earned them the Wild Card and now all the attention was on the American League race.
Shortly before five o’clock, the Boston Red Sox had everything in hand. Jonathan Papelbon entered the game in the bottom of the ninth inning to protect a 3-2 lead and two quick strikeouts left the Orioles down to their final out. The Red Sox would surely go on to win the game and leave the Rays vulnerable to a heart-breaking attack from the Yankees, with Boston fans no doubt enjoying the thought of the Yankees potentially giving them a huge helping hand.
But then it happened. Chris Davis stroked a two-out double and, with the Red Sox needing one more strike to win the game, Nolan Reimold drove a 2-2 fastball into the outfield to tie it at 3-3. Moments later, Robert Andino had Orioles and Rays fans in raptures as he singled home the winning run.
It was fitting that the game-winning hit narrowly eluded Carl Crawford. Boston lavished $142m on the Rays’ former left-fielder over the offseason, his $14m 2011 salary being roughly a third of the Rays’ total Opening Day payroll. You couldn’t paint a starker image of the Rays’ underdog status than that.
Tampa Bay knew that they would live to fight another day even if they lost to the Yankees, but even on this night of dramatic twists and turns, there was now only one way that this would all come to an end. With the Tropicana Field crowd still delighting in the flashing final score from Baltimore, Evan Longoria hit his second home run of the game to give the Rays a walk-off Wild Card win.
It was 5.07 a.m. in the UK. That’s not a very sociable hour to be cheering or screaming in frustration, but anyone following the action would have found it impossible not to let their emotions get the better of them.
The Rays were one strike away from losing in the ninth inning of their game. The Red Sox were one strike away from winning their game. Somehow it is the Rays that have ended up winning the AL Wild Card.
I can’t summon the energy or concentration required to think much about the postseason right now. All I know is that it has got a lot to live up to.