B.J. Upton and Tampa Bay Rays End Season with Another Emotional Game 162
Game 162 is becoming an annual mix of drama, excitement and emotion for the Tampa Bay Rays.
After overcoming a seven-run deficit in the final game of the 2011 regular season to advance to the playoffs, it was hard to imagine that the final game of the 2012 campaign would be nearly as memorable.
Then the game started and delivered a level of drama, excitement and emotion to hold its own in the memories of Rays players, coaches and fans.
That's not how a game without postseason implications—some would call it meaningless—normally would be described, but it is very illustrative of the Rays' 4-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.
The Rays didn't advance to the postseason or cap off a historical comeback with Wednesday night’s win, but they provided memories that the team and its fans will remember for years.
After the game, Rays’ manager Joe Maddon talked about the emotion of the game.
It was a very dramatic game tonight. How everything unfolded, including the opportunity to have BJ [Upton] pinch run for and then Fernando [Rodney], I was not going to use because I did not want to jeopardize the record that he has right now unless it was absolutely the right thing to do, and it was. … I like the idea of playing the last game of the season with that kind of effort.
It was a good game played with good effort, but the Rays ultimately finished three games out of the wild card.
Maddon also reflected on the season and the team’s continued effort until the end.
Sometimes you aren’t good enough. We are good enough this year; we just didn’t win enough games. It is unfortunate but never the less I am proud of the way we have handled these last 14 games. Winning 12 out of the last 14 games is pretty impressive against the opposition also. Of course it will be tough to go home with nothing to do tomorrow regarding playing a game of baseball.
Here are three of the most memorable and emotional moments from Game 162, part deux.
Honorable Mention: Dan Johnson 3 Home Runs
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While he is no longer a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, the list of moments would not be complete without mentioning Dan Johnson's accomplishment Wednesday night.
The ghosts of Game 162 past were ever present beyond Tampa Bay and spilled over to Johnson. He was one of the heroes for the Tampa Bay Rays in the final game of 2011, hitting the bottom of the ninth home run that tied the game and sent it to extra innings.
He hadn't hit a home run since.
This year, as a member of the Chicago White Sox, he delivered another memorable performance on the season's final day.
Johnson hit not one, not two but three home runs and Game 162 has given him another reason to smile.
3. Fernando Rodney Record-Setting Season
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Perhaps the villain can become the hero.
The crooked-hat wearing Rodney had the greatest season of his career and put together one of the all-time greatest seasons ever by a relief pitcher. His final 0.60 ERA broke Dennis Eckersley’s 0.61 ERA record (minimum 50 IP) for a reliever set in 1990.
He took the mound and embraced his friend and teammate Joel Peralta, before recording his 48th save of the season.
After the game, he admitted his performance this year was surprising even to him:
I was surprised by the year I had…Next year I wanted to be the same guy and do my job. I want to be the same person I am today.
Rays fans are hopeful he still will be shooting arrows in Tampa Bay in 2013.
2. Evan Longoria 3 Home Runs
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Evan Longoria loves Game 162.
After hitting two home runs (including the walk-off home run in the 12th inning) in last season’s historic game against the Yankees, the Tampa Bay third baseman blasted three home runs over the fence against the Baltimore Orioles.
Longoria has homered in five of his last seven at-bats in Games 162. In his seven-year career, he is 8-for-15 with seven runs, six home runs and nine RBI in the final game of the season
He shared his feelings after the game on his incredible night:
It was cool. That’s about as fun a night as you can have in a baseball game. [James] Shields caught me in the dugout during the game and asked why I couldn’t have done this last night.
The performance was the icing on a season in which Longoria played a pivotal role in the team’s success.
The Rays were 47-27 with Longoria in the lineup in 2012 compared to 43-45 without him.
1. B.J. Upton Curtain Call
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B.J. Upton left a lasting impression in what likely was his last impression in a Rays uniform.
Upton had been receiving a high volume of cheers throughout the game and received a standing ovation before his final at-bat. After hitting a single, he was pulled from the game for a pinch runner and received another ovation as he walked back to the dugout.
Inside the dugout there were hugs with teammates and even tears on Upton’s face.
Tampa Bay is the only team Upton has ever played for since the team drafted him as a 17-year-old prospect in 2002. The guys in the clubhouse aren’t just his major league teammates; many came up together through the Rays' farm system.
Upton’s feelings were pretty clear Wednesday night.
Yeah, man. This is all I know. The possibility that I might not be back to the team I’ve always been on, a lot of guys don’t get to do that. I’ve had that opportunity and have been around great people, people who care and people who care about one another. If this doesn’t happen, I’m definitely going to miss them.
For most of Upton's career in Tampa Bay, fan sentiment has ranged from love to hate. Manager Joe Maddon reflected on Upton’s persona after the game:
It is just how it works for all of us growing up. Sometimes we misinterpret things as it moves along, but I have spoken often about how much I think BJ [Upton] has matured as a baseball player and matured as a human. But as a baseball player, how it has worked in the dugout, watching him play the game and his understanding of what is going on there. All of that stuff is dramatically improved over the course of this season. I don’t know what is going to happen yet, but between me and him, I have really enjoyed our relationship. This is truly the year where I saw him blossom as a major league baseball player.
B.J. Upton has come a long way from the 17-year-old first-round draft pick.
Now, a 28-year-old professional, Upton walked off the Tropicana Field turf for what appeared to be the last time. He has spent the last 3,775 days (37 percent of his life) since being drafted by Tampa Bay, and now his future is officially uncertain.
It doesn’t get much more emotional than that.
Jamal WIlburg is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand via official Tampa Bay Rays team notes.