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Have a Ray: Seven-Run Comeback Vaults Tampa into Playoffs

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Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria, center, celebrates with teammates Sean Rodriguez, left, and Dan Johnson, right, after his home run defeated the New York Yankees 8-7 during a baseball game early Thursday, Sept. 28, 2011, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Tampa Bay Rays’ Evan Longoria, center, celebrates with teammates Sean Rodriguez, left, and Dan Johnson, right, after his home run defeated the New York Yankees 8-7 during a baseball game early Thursday, Sept. 28, 2011, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

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By FRED GOODALL
AP Baseball Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) _ The Tampa Bay Rays clinched the AL
wild card with a stunning rally Wednesday night, overcoming a late
seven-run deficit and then beating the New York Yankees 8-7 on Evan
Longoria’s home run in the 12th inning.

The Rays’ win came four minutes after Boston blew a one-run lead
in the ninth at Baltimore and lost 4-3, causing a roar at Tropicana
Field.

The Red Sox, who held a nine-game lead over the Rays in early
September, and Tampa Bay began the final day of the regular season
tied for the wild card.

Longoria hit a three-run homer in the eighth that capped a
six-run burst. Pinch-hitter Dan Johnson’s two-out, two-strike solo
homer in the ninth tied it for Tampa Bay.

Longoria won it with a one-out shot barely inside the left-field
foul pole, finishing the comeback from a 7-0 margin.

Tampa Bay will open its best-of-five playoff matchup at Texas on
Friday. The Yankees will host Detroit in Game 1 Friday night.

Longoria connected off Scott Proctor (0-3) to end it. Proctor
was the Yankees’ 11th pitcher of the game _ they did not use
all-time career saves leader Mariano Rivera, and Johnson hit his
tying shot off Cory Wade.

The Yankees pulled their regulars throughout the game and
finished with a lineup that looked more like a Triple-A team.

Moments before Tampa Bay won, it looked as if Boston would
instead be going to the playoffs.

The Orioles were down to their last strike in the ninth before
scoring twice off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon.

The Rays, meanwhile, escaped a first-and-third, no-out jam in
the 12th. Longoria made the key play, fielding a grounder at third
and making a snap tag to catch the runner diving back to the back.

Mark Teixeira hit a grand slam off All-Star David Price and a
solo homer as the Yankees built their big lead. The Rays sputtered
against a parade of New York pitchers, until the eighth. Longoria
homered off Luis Ayala to pull Tampa Bay within a run.

Teixeira’s second-inning slam put the Yankees ahead 5-0. His
solo shot made it 6-0 and came simultaneously as Dustin Pedroia
went deep for Boston to give the Red Sox a 3-2 lead in their game.
The Rays began cutting into their deficit during a rain delay in
Baltimore.

A night after Matt Joyce’s three-run homer gave Tampa Bay a 5-3
victory that kept the wild-card race tied, a crowd of 29,518 didn’t
have much to cheer until the eighth when the Rays loaded the bases
with no outs against Boone Logan.

Ayala replaced Logan and walked pinch hitter Sam Fuld to force
in one run, then hit Sean Rodriguez with a pitch to force in
another. B.J. Upton’s sacrifice fly trimmed Tampa Bay’s deficit to
7-3 before Longoria connected.

Before the eighth, the Rays were limited to two hits _ a pair of
singles by Casey Kotchman _ by a continuous stream of Yankees
pitchers, beginning with a two-inning stint by rookie Dellin
Betances.

George Kontos, Aaron Laffey, Phil Hughes, Raul Valdes, A.J.
Burnett, Andrew Brackman, Logan, Ayala, Wade and Procter followed
Betances, who made his first major league start.

NOTES: Yankees star Alex Rodriguez had his major league-record
stretch of 13 straight seasons of 30 homers and 100 RBIs end. He
had 16 home runs and drove in 62 runs over 99 games this year. …
Yankees GM Brian Cashman and other team officials held a second day
of organizational meetings in preparation for the playoffs. Cashman
declined to reveal who would start Game 3 of the ALDS behind LHP CC
Sabathia and RHP Ivan Nova. … The Rays were the only team in the
AL that did not score 10 or more runs in a home game this season.
The last time that happened was 1976 when the Angels and Orioles
didn’t do it.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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