It all started out so innocently. Locked in a futile battle with the anointed Team of Destiny from Baltimore, the Tampa Bay Rays fought for their playoff lives. The Rays needed this game, they wanted this game, to avoid falling even farther behind in the AL East and Wild Card standings.

In the ninth inning of a tie game, the Rays started a tiny rally. After the first two batters of the inning were retired, first baseman Carlos Pena (who entered the game in the 8th for defensive purposes) doubled to right field. A runner in scoring position! Joe Maddon saw his chance and out came the alto sax for an impromptu session of free-flowing jazz.

With Pena on second base and light-hitting catcher Jose Loboton due up, Maddon called on Matt Joyce to enter the game as a switch hitter and Rich Thompson to replace Pena as the runner at second base. Genius! Except O’s closer Dirty Jim Johnson was promptly ordered to intentionally walk Joyce, bringing up Desmond Jennings, who flew out to center to end the inning. Phooey.

Now Maddon had to make some things happen. The Rays started their all-world third baseman at DH for Thursday’s day game. Taking out their catcher and first baseman in the top of the inning meant some defensive re-alignment before the Rays could take the field for the bottom half. Joe Maddon did not disappoint. The changes came fast and furious:

  • Jeff Keppinger, starting third baseman, moves to first base
  • Evan Longoria, starting DH, comes into the game to play third
  • Defensive substitution Sam Fuld moves from right field to left field
  • Pinch hitter Matt Joyce stays in the game to play right field
  • Jose Molina enters the game as the catcher, hitting in the 8th spot previously occupied by first basemen Pena/Scott
  • New pitcher Fernando Rodney enters the game and will hit in the leadoff spot, as the Rays sacrificed their designated hitter to bring Longoria in for defense

Got it? Nothing unusual about wholesale changes — including inserting a pitcher into the leadoff spot of your batting order — in the middle of a game. If that wasn’t enough, Maddon was forced to get even more “look at me!” clever in the 11th inning.

As Ryan Roberts batted in the 11th inning, he took a foul ball off the left ankle. It hurt him and hurt him badly. So much so that Roberts had to come out of the game. At the time of the injury, Roberts was down 0-2 to Orioles hurler Luis Ayala with two outs already in the inning. Considering the low probability of scoring a run from this position and, with his pitcher’s spot due just three batters later, Maddon got jazzy again. Who does Maddon summon to complete Roberts’ injury-shortened at bat? Chris Archer, the pitcher he was going to insert into the game anyway.

Maddon doubled switched Archer into Roberts spot and Elliott Johnson into the leadoff spot in the lineup, playing second base. Ho Hum, nothing to see here. But, as one might expect, Joe Maddon was not yet done.

Flash to the THIRTEENTH INNING, with Chris Archer still on the mound. After a walk, an error and a single to right field, the Orioles have the bases loaded with nobody out. Joe Maddon knows what he must do, the only thing he could possibly do, FIVE MAN INFIELD!

The Rays replace Sam Fuld, their left-fielder, with shortstop Reid Brignac for use on the infield – determined to keep the game alive. And, of course, it works. Twice. Robert Andino grounds a ball to second base, where Elliott Johnson fields and throws home for the force out. Then, with the infield still five deep and drawn in, Archer strikes out Matt Wieters (though he probably actually walked him but these things happen.)

With two outs, the Rays are able to reset their infield. Which means MOAR CHANGES! Starting shortstop Ben Zobrist moves out to right field, allowing Reid Brignac to play shortstop and forcing Matt Joyce to switch from right to left field. Genius? Well necessity is the mother of all invention and this weird game certainly necessitated a bunch of wacky changes. There isn’t a more qualified man to make them, that much is for sure.