DAVID GREENE, Host:
Last night, Major League Baseball's regular season went out with a bang.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Unintelligible) down the left field line. That ball is gone! And the Rays win it!
GREENE: That was the call on Florida's Sunsports as the Tampa Bay Rays completed a stunning comeback. With it they are in the playoffs. So are the St. Louis Cardinals. Those two teams clinched playoff spots. Last night's big losers: the Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves. Both teams found a way to lose their games, polishing off two of the most memorable collapses in baseball history. It was hard for baseball fans to keep from hyperventilating during last night's drama. I think NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman has caught his breath by now. And he's on the line with us. Good morning, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN: Whoo-whee. Good morning.
GREENE: I mean, these four teams go into last night. We're trying to see which two will be left. We're talking about comebacks from seven runs down. I'll let you try and describe what happened.
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GOLDMAN: I'll try. After playing 161 regular season games over six months, those four teams came into last night vying for the two wildcard playoff spots. And the fate of those teams playing games in four different cities was decided in an hour and a half.
GOLDMAN: So at about 10:30 p.m. Eastern Time, St. Louis won. Then at 11:40 p.m. Eastern Time, Atlanta lost in extra innings, meaning St. Louis claimed that National League wildcard and Atlanta was out.
At two minutes past midnight Eastern Time in Baltimore, the Orioles won a stunner over Boston. And then three minutes later, down in Tampa Bay, the Rays completed a stunning comeback versus the Yankees and won in the bottom of the 12th inning. And as a result, Tampa Bay won that American League wildcard and Boston was out.
GREENE: I think you and I can keep saying stunning. It was that kind of night. I mean, let's talk about these collapses for Atlanta and Boston. I mean, they were both up late in their games, and they entered the history book now for the wrong reason.
GOLDMAN: Yeah. No team had ever led a playoff race in September by at least eight games and not qualified for the postseason. In early September, Boston had a nine game lead, Atlanta eight and a half. So they both collapsed in a big, historic way.
GREENE: Let's dig into the Red Sox and Rays games a little bit. I mean, they sound riveting. The Rays were down big late. I mean, they must've thought that this seemed to be all falling apart for them.
GOLDMAN: Yeah. Down 7-0 in the eighth inning versus the Yankees. So obviously up in Baltimore, Red Sox fans were loving that. Now, full disclosure. The Yanks were not playing their full strength lineup late in the game. They had some inexperienced pitchers on the mound, and they were resting some key players since they'd already clinched a playoff spot.
But Tampa Bay still had to take advantage and the Rays did. They scored six runs in that eighth inning, highlighted by Evan Longoria's three-run homerun. Then, and baseball fans live for these moments, Tampa Bay pinch hitter Dan Johnson was up in the bottom of the ninth, two outs, two strikes against him. What does he do? He hits a homerun and ties up the game.
Then in the bottom of the twelfth Longoria hit his second homerun of the game, Rays win.
GREENE: Boston always likes to say that their city has cruel baseball happenings. I mean, even though they have had success, they think that everything wrong goes wrong for them. I mean, where does last night's loss rank?
GOLDMAN: Way up there. For some in Red Sox Nation, maybe the worst ever. Coming into the season, Boston was a favorite to win the World Series. They had a powerful lineup, great pitching rotation, until September, when the wheels came off.
And last night was a microcosm. They made mistakes, but they still made enough good plays to go into the bottom of the ninth with a one-run lead. Closer Jonathan Papelbon looked dialed in. He struck out the first two batters. Then it all blew up. He gave up three straight hits. Baltimore scored two runs and won.
GREENE: Well, Tom, enjoy the playoffs.
GOLDMAN: Thank you.
GREENE: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.
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