Dramatic wins story of the season for the Rays
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Some things in sports, you can't quite explain. They don't seem possible. They don't even seem probable.But they unfold before your eyes. So they must be real. They must be happening. Now the astonishing tale of the Tampa Bay Rays has reached that point. Hasn't it? They won another one of those games they had no business winning on Tuesday -- a 2-1, walk-off thriller against the mighty Red Sox. It was not the kind of game the Red Sox lose. It was not the kind of game this team from Tampa Bay had any idea how to win for a whole frigging decade. But then, that's why this year is different, isn't it? This, said the Rays' latest end-of-game hero, Dioner Navarro, "is why we're here." Yep. Exactly. When your 5½-game September lead has disappeared, when you're getting one-hit by Josh Beckett into the seventh inning, when you're nine outs away from tumbling out of first place, you're supposed to be in trouble. Right?
The next hitter was Pena. He thought he'd just fallen behind in the count 1-2, only to have strike two overturned because a pitch got away in the Red Sox bullpen and hopped into fair territory. Naturally, he ended up walking."That," Pena said, of The Strike That Wasn't A Strike, "was like, 'Thank the Lord.'" Then it was Cliff Floyd's turn. He also got down in the count 0-2 -- and then got drilled in the shin. So the bases were loaded. We're still not sure how. That set the stage for Navarro, a man who had driven in precisely three runs since Aug. 14. You know what happened next. The count went to 2-2. The Trop shook. ThunderStix clattered. Strobe lights flashed along the catwalks. Navarro tapped the plate, wagged his bat and then pounded this team's 11th walk-off hit of the year, 400 majestic feet to the center-field track. It would have been a ground-rule double -- except Navarro never made it to second base. He felt the mob scene descending on him as he rounded first, tried to juke out of his buddies' way and then got buried in a rugby scrum of very happy people. "I tried to get away," Navarro grumbled afterward, a shaving-cream trophy smeared all over his hair and earlobes. "But they caught me I'm kinda mad right now. I had a bad hamstring, so I couldn't run away from nobody."
Whoever said they don't feel that, they must be dead. It's exciting. It's amazing. I mean, that's what you play for.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.