Monday, October 20, 2008


By JC De La Torre
The Tampa Bay Rays are American League Champions! I write that again - THE TAMPA BAY RAYS ARE AL CHAMPS AND GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES! The Rays shocked the country and maybe even themselves, putting together a tough, gutty performance in Game 7 of the ALCS, beating the Boston Red Sox 3-1 for their first AL Pennant.

After a devastating loss to Boston in Game 5, then a lackluster performance in Game 6, the media and baseball folks around the world thought the Rays were finished. The Rays took that belief and turned the world on its edge, beating the Red Sox and their best pitcher, Jon Lester.

Things started off a little rocky for the Rays as Dustin Pedroia would take a change up and deposit it into the left field bleachers for an early 1-0 lead. That would be the last hit the Red Sox get for several innings on Rays starter Matt Garza. More on that in a second. Sox starter Jon Lester was masterful in the early going, retiring the first 9 batters he faced.

The Rays woud finally get to him in the 4th inning. Aki Iwamurra would get a bloop single to left to get on. After Upton struck out, Pena would ground into a fielder's choice, giving the Rays a man on first and 2 outs with Evan Longoria at the dish. Longoria would blast into the right field gap, doubling and Pena scored all the way from first - the game was tied! Crawford would strike out to end the inning.

The Rays would take the lead in 5th inning. Tampa Bay would get a double from Willie Aybar to give them a man in scoring position. An infield single by Navarro gave the Rays men at 1st and 2nd with no outs. Rocco Baldelli would bloop a single to left field, scoring Aybar and giving the Rays a 2-1 lead. Lester would keep the damage to a mininum by striking out Bartlett and getting ground outs by Aki and Upton.

From there, the pitchers duel would continue. Garza was sensational, allowing no hits for 5 straight innings until the top of the 7th, when he got into a little trouble. After getting Youkis to pop out, he walked JD Drew, then allowed a single to Jason Bay to give the Sox men at first and second. It looked like Joe Maddon was going to pull Garza out of the game, but he allowed him to finish, and Garza rewarded him by Kotsay to fly out and striking out Jason Varitek.

In the bottom of the 7th, Willie Aybar would lead of the inning with a huge home run to left, giving them a 3-1 advantage.

In the 8th, Boston would take their best shot at the Rays. Garza would start the 8th inning, but would leave after Jason Barlett booted a grounder by Cora into center field. Dan Wheeler came in to relieve Garza. Coco Crisp woud single to right, Cora would go to 2nd with no one out and the dangerous Pedroia at te plate. Wheeler would get Pedroia to pop it out to right and Wheeler's work would be done. JP Howell would check in to face David Ortiz. Ortiz would hit a ground ball, but the Rays could ony get Crisp at 2nd, leaving men at 1st and 3rd with no one out. Chad Bradford would check in for the Rays, but walked Youklis to load the bases. Then Rays Manager Joe Maddon, who is one of the most unconventional managers in baseball made a startling move. He put the Rays fortunes in the hands of a rookie...but not just any rookie, the #1 overall pick of the 2007 draft - David Price. Price would strike out Drew to get the Rays out of the inning with no damage done.
After the Rays went 1-2-3 in the 9th, Maddon stuck with Price to finish it. He would walk Jason Bay, then struck out Kotsay and Varitek. Jed Lowrie would come on to pinch hit for Cora and he grounded to Aki on second, Aki touched the bag and the Trop erupted in elation.


Its on to the Phillies and the World Series, and for Boston and the Red Sox Nation - a stunned finish to a spectacular series. What a just gutty performance by the Rays - no one believed they had chance, yet Matt Garza was sensational and the Rays played small ball to pull ahead against Boston's best pitcher, then perhaps learning something from Game 5 - they finished it off in style, surviving Boston's last push in the 8th and completing the series like the Champions they are.

Tampa Bay wins the American League Championship Series 4 games to 3.

Can you believe it, Rays fans? Oh my! Rays Win! Rays Win! Rays Win the AL Pennant!

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