By his own estimation, Sam Fuld called his trip around the bases in the bottom of the ninth inning "the craziest 360 feet I’ve ever run."
Who can argue?
Fuld tripled home Elliot Johnson with the trying run and, after sliding into third base, got up and dashed home after a throwing error to score the winning run in the Tampa Bay Rays' wild 8-7 victory against the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night at Tropicana Field.
The Rays, who watched the Royals seemingly put the game away in the top of the ninth on a three-run homer by Melky Cabrera, scored five times in the bottom of the inning to send the crowd of 11,706 strong dancing into the night.
According to Elias, it was the second time in club history the Rays overcame a four-run deficit in the ninth to win.
"Everything happened so fast," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "It just went from a four-run lead to them scoring five runs, boom."
Fuld slid across the plate head first and rolled onto his back. He extended his hands as one thought ran through his mind: "Here they come."
That would be his teammates, who spilled out of the dugout and proceeded to pounce on Fuld, giving what Fuld described as "love taps."
"How about that fight?" Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "After we give up a three-run homer in the top of the ninth and get down by four runs and they still have "Closer Joakim) Soria in their back pocket, and we still come back like that? That’s an outstanding testament to this group of people."
The win, which extended the Rays winning streak to three, enabled them to keep pace with the wild card-leading Yankees – they are still 8 ½ back of New York – and pick up a game on the first-place Boston Red Sox to move to within 10 games of first place.
The comeback also gave Jake McGee his first big league win despite serving up Cabrera’s three-run homer.
Maddon, ever the optimist, admitted things looked bleak when Cabrera turned a 4-3 lead into a 7-4 lead.
"At that point you’re start to think about what you could have done differently," Maddon said. "I was sticking to the game plan. It didn’t work at that moment, but the offense picked us up."
While Maddon was pondering his moves, Matt Joyce, moved to leadoff for Wednesday’s game in an effort to shake the slumping right fielder from his funk, singled to lead off the ninth.
It was Joyce’s third hit of the game. His fifth inning homer – his 16th of the year – gave the Rays their first run of the night.
"Matt did the right thing by setting the table, and Sammy cleaned it up," Maddon said. "It’s supposed to work that way, isn’t it?"
Even Fuld said Joyce’s single didn’t entirely convince the Rays they were about to pull of the unexpected.
"Yeah, I guess you never expect it, but we do have a lot of fight here," Fuls said. "It’s not the first time we battled back like that. It sounds cliché but you take it one at-bat at a time. Nobody’s trying to win it themselves. I wasn’t trying to win it there. You just try to extend the inning. Before you know it you find a way to win."
Johnny Damon followed Joyce with a single off Aaron Crow and Yost called for his closer, who entered the game with 21 saves.
Evan Longoria greeted Soria with an RBI double.
Damon scored when Ben Zobrist grounded to second base.
Casey Kotchman reached on an infield single that scored Longoria. Kotchman immediately gave way to Johnson, who entered as a pinch-runner.
After B.J. Upton struck out, Fuld came to the plate having walked in his first three times up and singled in the eighth.
Fuld eventually advanced to third after his eighth inning hit on a pinch-hit single by Desmond Jennings that scored Upton to make it as 4-3 game.
But the Rays blew a chance to tie the score when Fuld was picked off by Royals catcher Salvador Perez, who was making his major league debut. The Rays were aware Perez had a strong arm, but didn’t know it was that strong.
Fuld was taking an aggressive lead because the batter, Sean Rodriguez, was trying to lay down a bunt.
"I don’t totally regret it just because I was being aggressive there," Fuls said. "I was definitely hoping to get some sort of retribution."
He got his chance, driving the ball to right-center field. The relay throw from second baseman Johnny Giavotella hit Fuld as he slid into the bag and bounced toward the far end of the visiting dugout.
From there, Fuld needed only to cover the final 90 feet.
"Slow," is how he described that sprint. "There was an elephant on my back for the last 90 feet, I know that."