Carl Crawford stood on second with one out with Matt Joyce up to bat. The Rays had already erased a 6-0 Yankees lead, so what was a run against the game's greatest closer?
Then Joyce flied to right. Crawford tagged and took off for third, but Yankees right fielder Greg Golson threw a strike to Alex Rodriguez at third, and Crawford was out -- ballgame over. And just like that, the Yankees had an 8-7 win over the Rays at Tropicana Field in front of a crowd of 28,713.
By losing, the Rays (87-57) flip-flopped in the standings with the Yankees (88-57) and are now a half-game out of first place in the American League East, with the finale of their three-game series to be played Wednesday night.
"It's not one of the things you expect is gonna happen," Golson said. "[Crawford is] one of the fastest guys in the league ... just one of those things where I was just trying to put a good throw on the ball."
One of baseball's cardinal rules is thus: Though shalt not make the third out at third base. Crawford did, but Rays manager Joe Maddon was fine with the play.
"Regarding Carl's play specifically, I always tell our guys to take positive risks," Maddon said. "If that ball hits him and bounces off him, all of a sudden we score another run. When you're facing Rivera, you do take chances because he does not give up many hits, so I was fine with the play. Golson made a great throw. That was a fabulous throw that he made, so we'll just move on until tomorrow."
Crawford said he wanted to get to third to be in position to score the tying run in the event Rivera threw a passed ball.
"But he made a good play and he got me, so that was it," Crawford said. "I always make it on that play, that's why I went. But [Golson] made a good play. You know I probably should have been more aware of ... I heard he has a great arm. I probably should have been more careful there with the game on the line. But that's the way we play, so I just tried it."
Count Rodriguez among the most surprised in the ballpark that Crawford got thrown out.
"I don't think anyone in the park, including myself, thought he would get thrown out in that situation," Rodriguez said. "It's just good. Whoever would have thought that Greg Golson would make a huge play in the middle of a great pennant race? It was a good game for us."
Tuesday night's proved to be everything anybody wants to see from a September pennant race.
First, the Yankees took a big lead.
Curtis Granderson's two-run homer fueled a four-run Yankees third against Rays starter Matt Garza, and Rodriguez homered in the fifth for a 5-0 lead that put Garza on the ropes.
After Robinson Cano walked and Austin Kearns singled, Maddon brought in Jake McGee to make his Major League debut with two outs. The highly-touted left-hander promptly walked the first two hitters he faced -- one of the walks forced in a run -- before he struck out Derek Jeter to end the inning with the Yankees leading 6-0.
Then the Rays came back.
Carlos Pena led off the fifth with his 27th home run of the season on the first pitch he saw from Ivan Nova. At the time, the blast looked like a consolation gift. Instead, it launched a rally.
John Jaso, Evan Longoria, and Joyce all followed with RBI singles, before pinch-hitter Willy Aybar connected for a three-run homer on a 1-2 pitch from Boone Logan to give the Rays a 7-6 lead.
The Yankees could ill afford to lose Tuesday night after holding a 6-0 lead, and they answered their reversal of fortunes like champions.
First, Cano hit an RBI double off Jeremy Hellickson in the sixth to tie the score at 7.
Granderson then robbed Ben Zobrist of extra bases on a ball to deep center field, diving at the last instant to make the catch. Had Zobrist's drive landed, he would have been standing on second at the very least. Instead, the ball nestled in Granderson's glove for a momentum-changing third out.
Finally, pinch-hitter Jorge Posada led off the 10th by hitting a 2-0 pitch from Dan Wheeler onto the top of the Batter's Eye restaurant in center field to give the Yankees an 8-7 lead.
After Crawford singled to start the Rays' 10th, Longoria teased the crowd with a deep drive to center field that initially appeared as if it might get out of the park. It did not.
Despite the disappointment of losing Tuesday night after coming from behind, Maddon said he looked forward to Wednesday night's finale, shedding a positive light on the loss.
"First of all, nobody died," Maddon said. "It was a great game once again. We lost by one run. I was really proud of the way we fought back today. I thought that was fantastic."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less