ALCS Game 7: The Rays Win the Pennant!

October 20, 2008 at 11:53 pm | Posted in Baseball, Rays | 1 Comment

I had been excited about the ALCS, but when it came time for Game 7 to start, I dreaded it.  I really didn’t think that the Rays would win.  They had their chance in Game 5, and they blew the 7-0 lead.  Boston clearly had the momentum and the confidence, and they showed it in Game 6 when they silenced the Rays bats and won 4-2.  The Red Sox had history on their side.  They came back from a 3-0 hole against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS and they beat Cleveland just last year after being behind 3-1.  This year, they turned a 3-1 Rays series lead into a 3-3 tie and forced a Game 7.  After all of that experience, it surely would be no problem for the Red Sox to win one more game against the Rays, right?

Matt Garza was on the mound and I knew that he’d pitch well, but when he gave up that first inning home run to Dustin Pedroia, I thought, here we go again.  The Rays offense was seemingly dead, and they didn’t even get a hit until the 4th inning.  An Evan Longoria double scored Carlos Pena to give the Rays a 1-1 lead.  Then in the 5th, Rocco Baldelli singled to score Willy Aybar and the Rays led 2-1.  So what?  Matt Garza was pitching brilliantly, even better than I had expected, but he was close to 100 pitches and the Rays bullpen could not be trusted after the collapse in Game 5.  Aybar then hit a solo home run in the 7th to increase the lead to 3-1.

Then the 8th inning happened.  By this point, despite my pessimism, a win by the Rays was a real possibility.  Then what looked like another collapse began.  Alex Cora, who the Rays had to get out with the top of Boston’s lineup due up, hit a grounder to shortstop that Jason Bartlett couldn’t handle.  Another error in a crucial situation.  Here we go again.  Then Joe Maddon takes Garza out of the game.  Who would replace him?  I was hoping that it would be Andy Sonnanstine or Scott Kazmir.  I didn’t trust any of the regular relievers.  In comes Dan Wheeler.  Oh no.  One of the architects of the Game 5 breakdown was back.  Great, he gives up a hit to Coco Crisp and now Pedroia is up.  It’s over.  Nope, not yet.  Pedroia flies out.  I breathe a sigh of relief as Maddon takes out Wheeler and brings in J.P. Howell to face Big Papi.  I’m happy about that.  J.P. is one reliever who’s been steady under pressure and Ortiz hasn’t been able to hit lefties.  He hits a grounder to second, Aki throws to Bartlett, and fittingly, Crisp tries to take down Bartlett with his slide rather than actually trying to touch the base!  It’s fitting because it was a dirty slide into second by Crisp that ignited the tensions that led to the Rays – Red Sox brawl in June.  So he’s out but Ortiz is safe at first.  Two outs.  Now Maddon brings in Chad Bradford to pitch to Kevin Youkilis.  I like Chad, but he looks nervous out there.  He walks Youkilis.  Crap!  Bases loaded, two outs, and J.D. Drew coming up.  Surely, we’ll blow it now…

Then Joe Maddon makes a move that shows he has balls of steel, or at least a ridiculous amount of confidence in David Price.  Yes, David Price comes into the game.  Yes, Price is a great prospect, but he started the year in Single-A, and he’s just one year removed from college.  And by the way, in the 2007 College World Series, he came out of the bullpen for Vanderbilt against Michigan and gave up a game-winning home run to end his team’s season.  If he couldn’t get that guy on Michigan out, someone named Alan Oaks (I just looked it up), how can he get out J.D. Drew in this situation?  Price is going to be a key player in the Rays’ future success – I wrote a post about him in August called Watching a future star – but if he gives up the winning run here, he’s never going to be able to get over that…

Then something amazing happened.  David Price, the guy who just turned 23 and just got called up to the majors for the first time a little over a month ago, pitched with more poise and confidence than anyone else in the Rays bullpen.  He went right after Drew with an impressive mix of fastballs and sliders, and STRUCK HIM OUT!

I think that the Rays and Red Sox both knew it was over after the Rays survived that 8th inning.  I could tell that the Rays hitters were rushing in the bottom of the 8th as they easily went down 1-2-3 to Okajima.  Then David Price came back out in the 9th and finished the job.  He walked Jason Bay, struck out Kotsay, struck out Varitek, and then Jed Lowrie hit that grounder to Akinori Iwamura.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget the image of Aki picking up that ball, touching second base to force out Bay, and then jumping and running to the pitchers mound for the pile-on celebration!

I was in disbelief.  I jumped up and started yelling “THE RAYS ARE GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES!” at least 10 times.

This was the greatest moment I’ve ever experienced as a sports fan!  In case my wife reads this post, I need to emphasize the words “as a sports fan”.  Yes, our wedding was a greater moment, and so was the day I met you, etc… I can’t say that I’ve been a Rays fan my whole life; nobody over the age of 10 can do that.  But I’ve been following this team closely since 2001 and I’ve been a full-fledged avid fan since 2003.  I’ve seen almost all of their current players develop in person at Durham.  Through it all, I’ve endured all of the losing, all of the last place finishes, and all of the hopelessness.  Every spring, I’d convince myself that they’d get better.  I’d say things like:

This will be the year that Victor Zambrano learns to control his fastball and starts to dominate the American League…

Toby Hall is finally going to put it all together and hit in the majors the way he did in Triple-A…

Tino Martinez and Jose Cruz are exactly the kind of veteran leaders who will teach the D-Rays to win…

Doug Waechter and Dewon Brazelton are finally going to live up to their potential and anchor this starting rotation for years…

If Aubrey Huff could just hit in the first half of the season like he does in the second half…

If you thought Jorge Cantu and Jonny Gomes were good in 2005, just wait til you see how great they’ll be in 2006…

Sure, Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes seem to have bad attitudes, but they’re still young and they’ll mature…

With all these good young players, it’s only a matter of time before the Rays can turn it around…

Even when everyone was optimistic after the team’s ownership changed after 2005, and they brought in Andrew Friedman as the new general manager (technically, the “Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations”) and Joe Maddon as the new manager, the (Devil) Rays went on to have two more seasons with the worst record in all of baseball.  A nucleus of good, young players was forming, but no matter what changed, the losing would just never end…

When the Rays signed Troy Percival this past offseason, I read an interesting quote from him.  I even posted it on my Facebook page right after he said it:

I’m not saying we’re going to the World Series this year. But I don’t discount it. I watched Colorado and Arizona, young teams with talent, go out and make a good showing.

It sounded good.  I knew the Rays would be better.  They added a good starting pitcher (Matt Garza), a good defensive shortstop (Jason Bartlett), and some good veteran leaders (Percival and Cliff Floyd).  Sure, they’d be better than last year.  Maybe if they were lucky they could finish with a .500 record.  Then they could build on that success and try to make the playoffs in 2009 or 2010.

Then the Rays went out and shocked the world.  They were in first place in the best division in baseball almost all year.  They fought off the Red Sox, Yankees, and Blue Jays to win the A.L. East after all of the experts insisted that they would fade under the pressure of the pennant race.  Then they beat the Chicago White Sox in the ALDS and showed that they belonged in the playoffs.  And now they have beaten the Boston Red Sox to become American League Champions!

Nobody thought that the Rays would have so much success so soon.  It happened without warning.  They didn’t go from bad to mediocre to pretty good to contenders to playoff team to league champion.  Nope.  They went directly from being the worst team in baseball to the World Series!

Now we will see if they can take this impossible dream one step further…

Tomorrow, I’ll post my thoughts on the World Series.  Some of my thoughts will probably surprise you…


1 Comment »

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  1. Great post, Dave. Impressive indeed. I am excited to be flying from Utah to Philly tomorrow and going to Game 3 on Saturday night!!!

    So…you wanna wager? I am thinking a box of packs. I collect pretty much all baseball so the product does not really matter to me. If you are interested, let me know what product you like and we will WAGER!!!

    GO PHILS!!!!!

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