It was the bottom of the 12th inning Wednesday night, and like he had for most of his career, Evan Longoria stepped out of the dugout to a loud ovation from Tropicana Field.
But it wasn't for him.
As he approached photographers near the on-deck circle, he smiled and said the Baltimore Orioles had just tied the Boston Red Sox, meaning the Rays – who were tied 7-7 with the New York Yankees – had a chance to earn a postseason berth.
Moments later another roar came from the crowd. The Orioles had won.
And then Longoria gave Tropicana Field its loudest roar of the night.
The Rays' third baseman capped a dramatic five minutes by hooking a home run inside the left-field foul pole and giving the Rays the American League wild-card spot with an 8-7 win against the Yankees.
"It doesn't seem real," said Longoria, who was at the bottom of a dogpile afterward. "All these fans stuck around until midnight. It's crazy."
The 12th-inning blast was Longoria's second home run of the game. Earlier, pinch-hitter Dan Johnson hit a two-out, two-strike solo shot in the ninth to tie the game and keep the Rays' hopes alive.
But it was Longoria who sent the Rays to the playoffs.
"I can't believe it," he said. "I really can't believe it. I wanted to be popping champagne tonight, but I never imagined it would be this way."
Longoria said he couldn't have imagined a better way to help his team out.
"The first three at-bats of the game were rough for me, and you have to hand it to the guys for giving me a chance," he said. "It doesn't even seem real."
It's going to get very real, very fast for the Rays, who face the Texas Rangers in the ALDS on Friday night.
The Rays will leave Tampa on Thursday afternoon, and Longoria said the team is confident heading into the playoffs.
"You know what: We're in," he said. "That was the goal. I mean, once we get in we trust our five starters against anybody, and we'll just roll it out there and see what happens."
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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