In the bottom of the eighth inning, Joe Maddon's wife had an idea.

She grabbed a little bottle of heart chakra oil and poured it onto her wrist. She told the other Rays wives around her in the lower bowl of Tropicana Field to do the same.

"Put it on your wrist and rub it on your heart," Jaye Maddon told her friends. "And your heart will open up."

The score was Yankees 7, Rays 0.

By this point, many fans had left. Out in the parking lot, as early as 9 p.m., there was a stream of people trudging away from the Trop. "Rays suck!" yelled one young woman in shiny short shorts. Parking attendants hugged goodbye for the winter. Headlights flashed on. Cars filed out.

Inside, there was near silence. Janitors passed by each other and shook their heads. A lady in an elevator said, "Well, it was a great run."

In the Rays dugout, of course there was determination. There was resolve. But there was also the feeling, as third baseman Evan Longoria said later, "that everything was slipping away."

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On the radio, the home announcers had already announced the Red Sox had taken the lead in Baltimore. They had already pitched season tickets for 2012. "The Rays have had a run of miracles," one said, "but the miracles might be over."

But the miracles were just beginning.

***

They started as little, tiny, seemingly meaningless miracles. Johnny Damon's soft looper landed in the outfield. Ben Zobrist, whose first inning error started the parade of seven straight Yankees runs, doubled. Casey Kotchman was hit by a pitch.

Bases loaded.

Sam Fuld walked home a run. Then came a moment that will likely be forgotten, but was key: Sean Rodriguez fell behind in the count and appeared to be helpless at the plate. But a pitch hit him too, and then it was 7-2.

There was a murmur in the crowd. It wasn't quiet anymore.

Ah, but then came two straight outs -- a Desmond Jennings strikeout and a B.J. Upton sacrifice fly. That made it 7-3. And with the Red Sox still winning, well, this wasn't quite seismic.

Then Longoria came to bat.

And he was thinking, "This could be my last at bat of the season."

He saw one pitch from Yankees reliever Luis Ayala. It was a 91-mile-an-hour fastball. And Longoria sent it screaming.

But the screaming was just beginning.

Longoria's home run left only a one-run deficit -- 7-6 -- and the feeling in the Trop sped from dread all the way past hope to a knowing. There would only be three outs left for the Rays to save their season, but there was a sense that something bigger was going on. Here was the team down nine games at the start of the month and suddenly within a whisper. Here was the team down seven runs in the eight and suddenly within a swing.

It made such perfect sense, even though it made no sense at all.

Things looked bleak again as Zobrist flew out and Casey Kotchman grounded out. Maddon replaced Sam Fuld for Dan Johnson, batting all of .108.

The count went to 1-2. The Sox were still winning. This was it, folks.

But here's the thing about Dan Johnson. No, he is not a good hitter -- that's clear. But in pressure situations, he sees things more clearly -- more slowly. He always has, as long as he's played baseball. He never expects to re-enter the zone, but it never fails to happen. Never. And as he watched the first curveball come in for a called strike, he saw the world sharpen yet again.

"I saw it the whole way," he said after the game, eyes wide in surprise. "I saw it great. It was slow. Everything slowed down."

So while the entire stadium gave up again, Johnson watched a changeup come at him in slow motion. He swung. And the ball rocketed toward the right field foul pole, 322 feet away.

"Stay fair!" he thought.

It did. Of course it did.

Tie game. The Rays had caught the Red Sox in the standings and caught the Yankees in Game 162.

"We got this!" Zobrist yelled in the dugout. "We gotta win this game!"

The game went to the 10th, the 11th, the 12th. The Red Sox game, delayed by rain, eked toward the bottom of the ninth.

It was close to midnight now. Of course it was.

Up in his box, Rays president Matt Silverman had the split screen going. He swiveled his head back and forth. There were two outs in the bottom of the ninth in Baltimore as well. Then came an Orioles double. Then another double. Tie game. Then, at 11:57 p.m., there came a roar from the president's box. And somehow that picked up energy all over the stadium. The Rays, for a moment, had no idea. They looked around.

Then someone shouted, "They lost it!"

Eight minutes elapsed. The cheers came in waves of revelation, as fans learned what had happened. Then Longoria, with one out and a 2-2 count, saw a four-seam fastball from Yankees reliever Scott Proctor, and he ripped a low line drive toward left.

Of course it was the only part of the ballpark where a shot like that could clear the fence. Of course the fence was just a little bit lower where Longoria hit it. Of course the fence was 315 feet away and Longoria hit it, well, 315 feet and one inch. Of course.

And the Rays fans, the much maligned Rays fans, erupted. The players flooded the field. The players' wives, smelling like essential oils, hugged and shrieked.

It was 12:05. Rays 8, New York 7. Tampa Bay was going to the playoffs.

***

In the bedlam of the clubhouse, with the Champagne spraying all over, everyone fought for words.

"It was just meant to be," said Zobrist.

"Beyond fiction," said Maddon.

"I can't believe we're standing here, popping bottles," said Johnson.

"I don't think there is a specific explanation for it," said Longoria.

"It really is insane," said Silverman.

Asked to pinpoint the one signature moment of the entire night, the president paused.

"The entire evening," he said, "was one great moment."

But there was another moment left.

Out on the field, fans crowded over the Rays dugout. They screamed and held up signs and hugged. Johnson came out and tipped his cap. Then Maddon came out. "JOE!!" everyone yelled. He waved.

Then he found Jaye. They hugged. They kissed. They smiled like silly kids. They started to tear up. She didn't tell him about the oil. She just clutched him and listened as he said again and again:

"Unbelievable."

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