The Tampa Bay Rays finished last in the AL East in 2007 with a record of 66-96. In 2008, the Rays reversed their record, riding to the top of the East, winning the division by two games over the second place Red Sox, with a record of 97-65. Then, they went on to beat the Chicago White Sox, three games to one, in the ALDS, to advance into the American League Championship Series, to play the defending 2007 World Champion, Boston Red Sox.
Now, this unlikely journey continues into the final lap of the 2008 Baseball Season, as the Tampa Bay Rays are going to the World Series, to play the NL Champion, Philadelphia Phillies, after a classic 3-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox, in Game 7 of this year’s American League Championship Series.
After the Red Sox kept this series going with their dramatic 8-7 comeback victory in Game 5, which injected new life into the post-season, the Sox tied the series with a 4-2 victory in Game 6, setting up the final showdown in Game 7.
This matchup lived up to all that is expected in a deciding game of any series, as both teams played a brilliant game, led by their starting pitchers who engaged in an old-fashioned pitching duel.
Rays starter, Matt Garza, threw 118 pitches over seven outstanding innings, allowing only one run, on two hits, and three walks, while striking out nine.
Jon Lester, who started for the Red Sox, was slightly out-battled by Garza, but also pitched a solid seven innings, throwing 107 pitches, while giving up three runs, on six hits, no walks, and eight strikeouts.
Dustin Pedroia hit a first inning homerun to give the Red Sox a quick 1-0 lead; but, Garza did not allow another Red Sox hit until Jason Bay singled with one out in the top of the 7th.
Lester was perfect throughout the first three innings, retiring the first nine batters he faced.
In the bottom of the 4th inning, Akinori Iwamura got the Rays first hit, a leadoff single.Then, after B.J. Upton struckout, Carlos Pena hit a grounder that forced Iwamura at second base, for the second out in the inning. This brought Evan Longoria up to the plate, and he stroked a beautiful opposite field RBI double into the rightfield corner, driving home Pena to even the score, 1-1.
This run scored because of nice hustle by Pena, who slid home with the run just ahead of a great relay throw from rightfielder, J.D. Drew, to Pedroia, to catcher, Jason Veritek, who caught the ball on the third base side of the plate, a split second after Pena slid across the plate.
The Rays took the lead in the 5th, on a lead off double by Willy Aybar; a single by Dioner Navarro; and, a RBI single by Rocco Baldelli, that scored Aybar, to move Tampa Bay ahead 2-1 in this game.
After allowing the first inning homer, Matt Garza’s awesome pitching performance shut-down the Red Sox over the next six innings, as this great pitching duel entered the bottom of the 7th.
Leading off the 7th, Willy Aybar hit a big homerun, increasing the Rays lead to, 3-1.
Lester then retired the next three batters, to complete his great work in this deciding Championship game.
Matt Garza came out of the dugout to start the the top of the 8th.
Alex Cora was the lead off batter, and Garza got him to hit a grounder to short that looked like it would be the first out of the inning, but the ball skipped past Jason Barlett for an error, bringing the tying run up to the plate. Everyone watching was probably thinking, “here we go again, another Red Sox comeback”. When the next batter, Coco Crisp, singled, I’m sure most viewers were thinking, “Game 1 of the World Series, would be in Boston”.
At this point, Joe Maddon decided it was time to go to the bullpen, and as Matt Garza walked to the dugout, he received a very warm standing ovation from the appreciative Tampa Bay fans.
Dan Wheeler was brought in to face Dustin Pedroia, who flied out to leftfield for the first out. Maddon then called J.P. Howell into the game to pitch to David Ortiz, who was the go-ahead run at the plate.
Ortiz hit a grounder to Iwamura, who made a great throw to Bartlett for the force at second base. Reviewing replays on TBS, the runner, Coco Crisp, actually beat the throw to second, but as Crisp slid, he tried to take-out Barlett by sliding into the shortstop, and touched second base after the out was called by the umpire. So, there were now two outs, with runners on first and third.
Maddon continued the merry-go-round of relief pitchers from the bullpen, by bringing Chad Bradford into the game to face Kevin Youkilis. Bradford walked Youkilis, loading the bases.
J.D. Drew was the next batter, and once again Maddon paraded to the mound to bring in the fourth reliever of the inning, rookie, David Price.
I first remember seeing the young, hard-throwing, David Price, in an exhibition game this past spring training against the Yankees. And, in his brief appearance, he blew away the Yankee batters he faced. Very impressive.
With the bases loaded, and two outs, Price struckout Drew, ending the Red Sox best chance to tie, or take the lead in this game.
Okajima pitched a scoreless bottom of the 8th for the Sox, sending this Championship game into the 9th inning, with the Rays in the lead, 3-1.
David Price was back on the mound in the top of the 9th, to close out this historic game for the Rays.
Jason Bay led off the inning with a walk; then, Price struckout the next two batters, Mark Kotsay, and Jason Veritek, as the cheering of the crowd continued to fill the Dome.
Jed Lowrie was sent up to pinch hit for Alex Cora.
Lowrie hit a ground ball to second baseman, Akinori Iwamura, who didn’t want to take any chances tossing the ball to second, so he quickly sprinted to second base to record the force, for the final out of the inning, and the game.
Ball Game Over … Rays 3, Red Sox 1 …
The Tampa Bay Rays win the 2008 American League Championship.
Congratulations to both the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays, for having a great 2008 Baseball Season.
And, Best Wishes to the Rays for a successful World Series, and victory against the Phillies.