ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Maybe now, Derek Jeter said, he had seen everything.
"It seems like just when you've seen it all," Jeter said, not finishing the sentence. "You had a team that was down seven runs in the eighth inning and Boston was winning. Then everything changed. It was very bizarre."
A remarkable night of baseball concluded just after midnight at Tropicana Field when Evan Longoria lined a Scott Proctor pitch just over the wall down the leftfield line in the bottom of the 12th inning to give the Rays an 8-7 victory over the Yankees that sent them into the postseason and the favored Red Sox home.
The Yankees (97-75) will open the ALDS tomorrow night at the Stadium against the Tigers in a matchup of aces with CC Sabathia taking on Justin Verlander, the presumed AL Cy Young Award winner and possible MVP.
"The last week was all about getting ready for the playoffs," said Mark Teixeira, who hit two home runs, including a grand slam, to give him 39 this season and helped the Yankees build what seemed like an insurmountable lead.
The roar that accompanied Longoria's second home run of the night completed the Rays' comeback from nine games down in the AL wild card race in early September -- the most games ever overcome in September to get to the postseason -- and a comeback from a 7-0 deficit last night after seven innings.
But what everyone in the crowd of 29,518 will recall -- including the players in both dugouts -- was the shift of emotions as the Red Sox blew their own lead and the Rays came charging out of the dugout on Longoria's game-winner.
"We're all going to remember where we were last game of the season, 2011," Alex Rodriguez said.
A-Rod was a late scratch because of soreness in his right knee but said it was related to not wanting to play another day on the turf here. He said he would definitely be in the lineup tomorrow night.
As the Rays came to bat in the 12th, the Orioles were batting in the bottom of the ninth, trailing 3-2 against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. Just before midnight Nolan Reimold's two-out double scored Kyle Hudson, eliciting wild cheers in the middle of the at-bat of B.J. Upton, who looked around momentarily confused. Upton struck out.
At 12:02 a.m., as Longoria -- whose three-run homer brought the Rays to 7-6 in the eighth -- came to the plate, Robert Andino's single brought in Reimold to give the Orioles a 4-3 lead and send the crowd into hysterics again.
At 12:06 Longoria did one final time.
"Crazy game," said Joe Girardi, who announced afterward Freddy Garcia would start the third game of the ALDS and A.J. Burnett would pitch out of the bullpen. "Teams are in it until someone says you're not . . . that's the great thing about this game. You never know what's going to happen from day to day."
And while the latter half of the game was contested with mostly Yankees minor leaguers, three pitchers who will likely be on the postseason roster -- Boone Logan, Luis Ayala and Cory Wade -- blew the 7-0 lead. Logan gave up three runs, as did Ayala and Dan Johnson, down to his last strike in the ninth, tied it at 7 with a solo blast off Wade in the ninth.
Since clinching the division and home-field advantage late last week, Girardi repeated a singular goal for the remaining regular-season games: Enter the postseason as healthy as possible.
The news on A-Rod, battling a sprained left thumb since Aug. 21, sounded foreboding before the game but the third baseman called it "nothing to worry about," and Girardi said he would have played had it been a playoff game.
In the Rays' six-run eighth, catcher Jesus Montero took a ball on his right hand when Logan hit Casey Kotchman with a pitch. It was assumed that Montero would get most of the at-bats at designated hitter in the postseason. He left the game, replaced by fellow rookie Austin Romine.
After the game, Girardi said X-rays on Montero's right hand were negative.
"I'm ready to go," Montero said afterward, playfully clenching the hand into a fist. "I'll be fine."
Girardi started Montero because, as the manager said, "he's caught a lot of these guys," meaning Betances at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but also the slew of relievers, some of them call-ups, he planned to pitch. Girardi pitched a lot of them.
Hughes struck out one and walked one in an inning -- his fastball hitting the mid-90s -- likely wrapping up a spot in the ALDS bullpen. Burnett retired his one batter in the seventh.
Girardi's plans for last night's game included playing most of his regulars for about half of it. Girardi insisted the Yankees weren't just there to observe a Rays celebration, of either a wild card or at least an appearance in a playoff that would have occurred today.
"My first priority is taking care of our guys and I have to do it," Girardi said. "We want to win this game. It's important to us. But the biggest thing is making sure everyone comes out healthy."
With one out in the second, a double by Eduardo Nuñez, a single by Brandon Laird and a walk to Jeter loaded the bases. Teixeira launched a full-count pitch deep into the seats in left for his 38th homer, making it 5-0. Teixeira's 39th in the fourth made it 6-0.
Andruw Jones' 13th homer, in the fifth, made it 7-0, but the Rays were far from finished, and unlike the Red Sox, their season goes on.