The Tampa Bay Rays, a team of anonymous stars, are headed to the World Series after holding off baseball’s most infamous team. The Rays beat the Houston Astros 4-2 in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, ending Houston’s bid to become the second team in baseball history to overcome a 3-0 deficit in a postseason series.
“It goes without saying this has been a weird year,” Rays Game 7 starter — and winner — Charlie Morton said. “It was pretty apparent early on the guys had bought into each other during this time.
“It was very challenging, because at first everything was about the protocols and trying to keep guys safe. Just guys come onto the field every day, knowing they could get sick, and staff coming in, and just a ton of work by people behind the scenes. I am so proud of these guys.”
The formula for the Rays is consistency, and it was very much evident in Game 7. They stifle the opposition. They catch the ball on defense. And they ride just enough home runs on offense to bring home the win.
Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena continued a historic postseason run on Saturday with his seventh homer, a two-run shot in the first inning that gave Tampa Bay a lead it never relinquished. Arozarena was named MVP of the ALCS, becoming the fourth rookie — and first rookie position player — to be named MVP of a league championship series. He has homered seven times during these playoffs, just one shy of the big league record, and now has 47 total bases since the regular season ended.
Tampa Bay catcher Mike Zunino added a solo shot.
“You go up 3-0, whether we get a little complacent or a little comfortable, whether we put a little pressure on ourselves to end it quicker, we took ourselves out of our game,” Zunino said of the Rays winning the series’ first three games. “Guys came back today and there was a sense of calm. It felt like how the clubhouse usually feels, and these guys responded.”
Meanwhile, Morton shut down his former teammates over 5⅔ innings, striking out six Houston batters and throwing just 66 pitches before turning the ball over to Kevin Cash’s airtight bullpen.
“We are lucky to have Charlie Morton,” Cash said. “For a group that doesn’t have a wealth of experience in these roles, Charlie does. He has been there, done that. It lined up really, really well for us.”
The Rays now head to their second World Series in franchise history. The last time they played in the Fall Classic was in 2008, when they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Tampa Bay entered the first 16-team playoff format in baseball history with a 40-20 record, tops in the AL, and thus earned the Junior Circuit’s No. 1 seed. That top seed held up, even though the Rays had to recover from losing three straight to Houston after winning the first three contests.
“Pretty special feeling,” Cash said. “I don’t know if I’ve had many better [moments] other than getting married and having three kids. This is right there below that. It can’t get much better than that. This is a special group to be a part of.”
For Houston, it was an emotional loss after a tumultuous season for the organization. The Astros were embroiled in a sign-stealing scandal last winter that tainted their 2017 World Series title and cost manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow their jobs.
“The legacy of this group is that these guys are ballplayers,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “These guys are men; they have been through a whole bunch other than on the ballfield. [Now] these guys can forget the problems they had that is out there and come together as a group and be forever friends.”
Hinch’s replacement, the 71-year-old Baker, helped restore some of the goodwill the Astros squandered. But with the Game 7 loss, Baker is still looking for the first championship of a managerial career that began in 1993. Yet, in 2020, there was much more that was brought into perspective.
“You go home and you regroup,” Baker said. “Personally, when I think of [former MLB executive Jimmie Lee Solomon, whose] funeral was today, and you think about the many friends I have lost over the last month, six months. That is the reality of life. Those are far greater losses than losing a ballgame.”