The Tampa Bay Rays bested the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the ALCS to advance to the World Series for the first time since 2008.
The Tampa Bay Rays are going to the World Series. They just took the long way around.
Had they lost Game 7 of the ALCS against the Houston Astros, they would have been accused of a huge choke job.
Instead, Charlie Morton performed a Heimlich maneuver with 5.2 scoreless innings while Randy Arozarena and Mike Zunino used their bats to drive Tampa Bay to a 4-2 win.
The Rays need to hang on to the mental toughness they showed in Game 7
Tampa Bay let Houston take control early in their earlier losses, so they flipped the script in Game 7 and jumped out to a 2-0 lead with a first-inning home run from Arozarena. It was his seventh of the postseason, which is a record for a rookie.
Zunino smacked a solo home run in the second inning to add to the advantage.
Meanwhile, Morton was dealing from the mound. He allowed just two hits and struck out six batters as he pitched into the fifth inning.
That’s when manager Kevin Cash took a risk. For the second game in a row, he pulled the starter in the middle of a shutout, to the despair of many a Rays fan and the delight of the Astros. When he did that to Blake Snell on Friday night it ended in disaster.
This time, it turned out alright. Zunino popped up a sacrifice fly to score Ji-Man Choi in the sixth while the bullpen held on.
Things got nervy in the eighth. Carlos Correa’s two-run single put Houston within striking distance as the final inning loomed.
Peter Fairbanks set Yuli Gurriel to take first base on a single, but he took care of business and a pop fly from Aledmys Diaz ended it.
The series should have been simple for the Rays. They’d had the better record in the regular season and proved their chops by taking a 3-0 lead over the Astros in the opening three games.
All they needed was one win in the last four games. When they lost Game 4, 4-3, it was no biggie. Losing Game 5, 4-3, raised some concerns. Then they blew Game 6, allowing Houston to become only the second-ever team to force a Game 7 in MLB history. The other team? The 2004 Red Sox, only they didn’t just force a Game 7, they won it.
The Rays didn’t want to become the next Yankees, who they had just dispatched in five games in the ALDS. They avoided such a fate.
Now, they need to find a way to avoid the following too closely in the footsteps of their 2008 predecessors, who made it to the World Series but lost in five games to the Phillies.