The Tampa Rays completed a pair of improbable comebacks to reach the 2011 postseason as the wild-card team.
First, they overcame a 9.5 game deficit in the final month of the season to enter the final day of the season tied with the Boston Red Sox for the wild-card spot. Then they overcame a 7-0 deficit against the New York Yankees in the final two innings, highlighted by Evan Longoria’s three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth and pinch-hitter Dan Johnson’s two-out, two-strike game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth.
In the bottom of the 12th, Longoria lined a shot down the left field line that cleared the fence by about a foot. The dramatic home run won the game for the Rays and clinched the wild-card spot (thanks to the Orioles’ walk-off victory against the Red Sox).
Longoria’s home run was probably the most dramatic moment in the history of the Tampa Bay Rays (with the possible exception of the 2008 ALCS when they defeated the Boston Red Sox to advance to their first World Series).
In fact, Longoria’s home run is probably the single most dramatic regular season home run in American League history, trailing just Bobby Thomson’s incredible three-run walk-off shot to clinch the pennant for the New York Giants in 1951–the “Shot Heard Round the World”.
There have been a number of home runs more dramatic than Longoria’s. Kirk Gibson and Bill Mazeroski come to mind immediately. And of course, there have been individual accomplishments reached by home runs, like Barry Bonds’ 71st or 756th.
But there hasn’t ever been a regular season home run that meant as much to a single team as Longoria’s walk-off.
The only one that comes close is New York Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent’s home run against the Boston Red Sox in the one-game playoff to decide the 1978 AL East.
In 1978, the Yankees trailed he Red Sox by 14 games in mid-July. They rallied to tie the division late in the season and forced a one-game playoff, which was held at Fenway Park (by virtue of a coin toss).
In the top of the seventh inning, the Yankees trailed 2-0 with runners on first and second and one out. Dent’s homer provided the Yankees with a 3-2 lead and proved to be the deciding factor in the one-game playoff. A few weeks later, the Yankees defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the World Series.
But Dent’s seventh inning blast can’t compare to Longoria’s 12th inning blast, which literally ended the game and guaranteed the Rays a postseason berth right then and there. Besides, the Rays also overcame a huge deficit late in the season, like the ’78 Yankees, and they overcame a seven-run deficit late in the 162nd game.
Had Dent’s home run occurred two innings later, it might have surpassed Longoria’s, but as of the conclusion of the 2011 baseball season, the home run by Evan Longoria is the greatest regular season home run in American League history.