Crawford slid on the slick grass, the ball hit off the top of his glove and Reimold hustled home. The September call-ups didn't know whether to mob Andino or Reimold. The Orioles ended a 93-loss season in a World Series--caliber dog pile. When Andino finally emerged, he looked up at the Red Sox fans filing out. "I just wanted to see them go," he says. Orioles first baseman Mark Reynolds flung his jersey into the stands. Jeff Mayer, sitting over the first base dugout, made the catch. He celebrated with a stranger in a Longoria jersey.
Groups of Rays were shuttling back and forth to the clubhouse at Tropicana Field, returning with updates from Baltimore. The last one came from reliever Joel Peralta, his right arm wrapped in ice. "We have our chance," he told teammates in the dugout. "Let's go get it." Fans in the suites, who had televisions to follow the Orioles, started jumping. The ones in the stands followed. Rays centerfielder B.J. Upton ducked out of the batter's box as if he might be pelted. Longoria chuckled in the on-deck circle.
Three minutes after the Red Sox lost, Crawford was in the clubhouse, looking at a TV. So were the Orioles, pulling for the Rays as if they were related. "I'm not really sure why," says Davis, but the answer seems obvious. The Orioles and the Rays share the misfortune of playing in the most inequitable division in professional sports, their payrolls dwarfed and ballparks overrun by the Yankees and the Red Sox. Game 162 was a small-market revolt, an opportunity to cheer against New York and Boston at exactly the same time. When Longoria stepped out and looked at the foul pole, there might not have been more than 15,000 people at Tropicana Field, but Maddon sensed the support of the country. "I'm certain the Internet was not invented when David and Goliath fought," he says, "but the group watching had to be rooting for David."
Scott Proctor pitched 11 innings for the Yankees in 2011, and 22/3 of them were on the final night. His ERA for the year was 9.00. He threw Longoria a 95-mph fastball, same as the one he had thrown him six days before, when Longoria grounded weakly to short. This time Longoria hit it low and hard toward that foul pole. "It looked like the third baseman was going to catch it," Johnson says.
Longoria initially thought the ball would drift foul. Then he thought it would bounce off the fence. And it would have, if the Rays had not lowered that section of the wall four years ago. According to Hit Tracker Online, Longoria's liner would've only made it out of one major league stadium: Tropicana Field.
Harold Reynolds and Den Plesac, MLB Tonight analysts, leaped out of their chairs in the studio. Westmoreland, the Rays' clubhouse manager, wheeled the champagne out of the walk-in cooler. Ziegler, the traveling secretary, broke his pinkie finger in the commotion. Maddon went from locker to locker, making sure to hug everyone and say, "I don't believe this." When the Rays landed in Texas the next day for the ALDS, Longoria asked general manager Andrew Friedman and some of the club owners why they'd lowered that part of the fence in the first place. They said it was to create more exciting plays. According to Maddon, it was lowered for Crawford, so he could take away more home runs.
Much of what occurred on Sept. 28 foreshadowed what transpired in the month to follow. The rested Yankees and the exhausted Rays fell in the first round of the playoffs. The Phillies, who helped the Cardinals clinch their playoff berth, were eliminated by them. Teams played 38 of 41 possible postseason games. The Cardinals were down to their last strike twice before coming back to win Game 6 of the World Series. Carpenter won Game 7.
On the way out of Camden Yards, Francona told Epstein, "I feel like I let you down." He resigned two days later, and Epstein bolted for the Cubs two weeks after that. The Braves, a bit more understated in their grief, only replaced a hitting coach.
The Orioles, who took five of seven from the Red Sox in September, wondered if it was a fluke or a harbinger. For the first time in his 13-year managerial career, Showalter did not speak to his team after the last game. He just sat in his office, wiping happy tears, telling bench coach John Russell, "That was the demonstration of what I was going to say." Then he went out to see the fans, but Jeff Mayer had already left, walking home to Federal Hill. He wore his Mark Reynolds jersey over his Natty Boh beer T-shirt, feeling like it was 1996 again, before that 12-year-old with the homophonic name interfered.
Many Orioles lingered in the clubhouse, trying to re-create what they saw. "I don't think anybody wanted to leave," says Hudson. The Rays heard rumors that the Orioles drank the Red Sox' champagne, but the Baltimore players deny it. Tampa Bay pitcher James Shields said he would at least buy the O's a postgame spread next season.