On Thursday, Major League Baseball presented “Opening Day at Home” -- a full slate of 30 games broadcast nationally across various platforms including networks, digital streaming and social media, creating a full-day event on what would have been Opening Day. The experience was intended to invite fans to feel a
On Thursday, Major League Baseball presented “Opening Day at Home” -- a full slate of 30 games broadcast nationally across various platforms including networks, digital streaming and social media, creating a full-day event on what would have been Opening Day. The experience was intended to invite fans to feel a sense of community and unity on a day many were looking forward to while underscoring the importance of staying home to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Using the hashtag #OpeningDayAtHome, fans connected with each other while watching their team’s selected game at a set time. The Rays took part with their thrilling Game 162 win over the Yankees in 2011, which sent them to the postseason for the second consecutive year.
“Opening Day at Home” also served as an opportunity for MLB to raise awareness for several worthy charities that are helping provide relief to the most vulnerable communities impacted by the pandemic. Last week, MLB and the MLBPA made a $1 million joint donation to Feeding America and Meals on Wheels, in addition to a $30 million commitment made by MLB clubs to emergency relief for ballpark employees. If so willing and able, fans can contribute toward these charities, MLB official charity Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and additional causes at MLB.com/give.
Flash back nine years. The Rays entered the last game of the regular season tied with the Red Sox in the American League Wild Card race. In the National League, the Cardinals and Braves were also fighting for the last playoff spot. Because two playoff spots were decided across four games after historic comebacks in both races, the night became known simply as Game 162.
Ace David Price went up against the Yankees, who had already wrapped up the AL East after winning 97 games in the regular season. And even though New York had nothing to play for, they struck early and often.
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The Yankees jumped out to a 5-0 lead after two innings and led 7-0 after five, largely thanks to a Mark Teixeira grand slam. Around the same time, the Red Sox went up 3-2 on the Orioles, and it became increasingly unlikely that the Rays would clinch a postseason berth.
“I remember Joe Maddon walking off after changing pitchers,” said Joe West, who served as the home-plate umpire for Game 162. “I inadvertently said, ‘Well, you had a good run at it. You gave it your best.’ I was thinking it’s all over. Then he said, ‘Thank you,’ and kept walking.”
In the eighth inning, the Rays rallied for six runs, capped off by an Evan Longoria three-run home run. It was a blast that got the crowd back into the game and the dugout believing.
As Boston’s game entered a rain delay, the drama continued in St. Petersburg. With two outs in the ninth and the Rays still trailing by a run, Maddon turned to September callup Dan Johnson, pinch-hitting him for Sam Fuld and hoping he would deliver with a clutch hit.
Johnson came through, hitting a home run down the right-field line off Yankees reliever Cory Wade, who was on Tampa Bay's roster in Spring Training and played two months for Triple-A Durham earlier that year.
Everything changed quickly as the game went to extras. At 12:02 a.m., the Orioles scored two runs in the ninth inning off Jonathan Papelbon to beat the Red Sox, 4-3. Three minutes later, Longoria cemented his legacy as the greatest player in franchise history, hitting a walk-off home run that helped the Rays clinch a postseason berth and complete one of baseball’s most historic comebacks.
"Immediately, I didn't think it was going to go out,” Longoria said. “I wanted to make sure I got on second base, because I know I hit it hard. I watched it go over the fence. And when it did, obviously I was excited."
On Sept. 4, the Rays were nine games back of the Red Sox. Entering the 2011 season, no team had ever come back to make the postseason after being down by nine games or more that late into the season. On Sept. 30, they played in Game 1 of the AL Division Series vs. the Rangers.
This week, MLB unlocked its expansive vault and is offering fans special access to the most unforgettable moments. MLB has made the entire 2018 and '19 game archives free to all fans through MLB.TV. Fans can also access more than 200 full classic MLB games on YouTube, including timeless World Series games, memorable postseason matchups, no-hitters and perfect games.
Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.