In Houston, St. Louis pitcher Chris Carpenter heard Cardinals fans erupt over the third base dugout, and he turned to look at the out-of-town scoreboard: PHILLIES 3, BRAVES 3. The Cardinals had a chance to avoid the one-game playoff. Of all the teams playing for the postseason, the Cardinals were the only ones who did not flinch. They won 8--0, and Carpenter finished a two-hit shutout in two hours, 20 minutes. The Cards retreated to the clubhouse cafeteria at Minute Maid Park to watch Phillies-Braves.
For a while it was the only game that seemed to matter. During the rain delay in Baltimore, Jeff Mayer and his friends watched Phillies-Braves on the Jumbotron. Coaches watched it in the Orioles' clubhouse. Showalter, however, wouldn't give up on the Rays. He walked into the coaches' room and said, "You might want to turn the channel. This could get interesting in Tampa."
When Longoria came up with two on and two out in the eighth, the Rays were down 7--3. Longoria told himself that it could be his last at bat of the season. As Dan Johnson looked at the scoreboard, the batter, and the runners on base, he did the simple arithmetic: "Longoria is up," he said to teammates in the dugout. "If he hits a three-run home...."
He never completed the sentence. Longoria sent a three-run bomb to left centerfield. "You think in that moment about destiny and magic and the way positive and negative energy gather momentum," Maddon says. Also, he had to revisit his bullpen strategy.
In Baltimore, Jeff Mayer and his friends dashed to the concourse to find a TV. Orioles pitcher Zach Britton charged into the clubhouse to tell everyone the Rays were within one. Robert Andino drank a cup of coffee.
Other games of consequence were unfolding. The Brewers handled the Pirates to clinch home field advantage in the NLDS. The Rangers edged the Angels to clinch home field in the ALDS, on a two-run homer by catcher Mike Napoli with two outs in the ninth. In Baltimore the tarp came off, and the Jumbotron switched to Yankees-Rays. In St. Petersburg, Maddon told Johnson that he would pinch-hit in the ninth for rookie Desmond Jennings, who was due up fifth. Johnson dashed to the batting cage.
With two out and nobody on, rightfielder Sam Fuld was scheduled to hit for Tampa Bay, and Johnson was still in the cage. But Maddon needed a home run threat. A security guard near the cage hollered at Johnson, "You're up! You're up!" Johnson sprinted back to the dugout and tried to catch his breath as he strode to the plate.
Johnson remembered that Maddon had done this with him once before, in September 2008, on the day he was called up from Triple A Durham and arrived at Fenway Park five minutes before first pitch. Maddon asked Johnson to pinch-hit in the ninth inning, and he belted a game-tying homer off Papelbon. "It more than crossed my mind," Johnson says.
Johnson was on the Opening Day roster, but he was sent to the minors in May and didn't return until Sept. 15. Not only was he batting .108, his last big league hit had come in April. He was facing the Yankees' 10th pitcher of the night, Cory Wade, who had played with Johnson in Durham before the Rays released him in June. Johnson knew Wade's best pitch was a changeup. Wade threw it with a 2--2 count and the lefthanded-hitting Johnson yanked it off the rightfield foul pole for another tying homer. The Red Sox were warming up for the seventh inning in Baltimore.
"When Danny hits that home run, there's no way we're not winning and there's no way they aren't losing," Maddon says. "You knew they'd trip." In the Rays' clubhouse, Westmoreland left his office and headed for the room with the walk-in cooler. "Where are you going?" Zimmer asked.