Pack The Bags, We're Headed For Tampa

After letting the Boston Red Sox push the ALCS to the brink, the Tampa Bay Rays took a 3-1 win in Game 7 to put themselves into the World Series. The win takes the Phillies off to Tampa for the Series opener Wednesday night.

Gathered behind second base, champagne spraying, the Rays passed around the American League championship trophy and looked ahead to their next challenge, facing the Phillies in the World Series.

The celebration started at 11:40 p.m. Sunday, when Akinori Iwamura fielded Jed Lowrie's hard grounder and tagged second base for the final out, and it might last until Wednesday, when the Rays will host the Phillies at Tropicana Field for the first game of the World Series.

Even pitcher Scott Kazmir, who brazenly observed on the first day of spring training that the Rays were good enough to play in October, admitted he didn't expect this much - to be four wins from a World Series championship.

"Not in a million years," he said. "I knew we were going to be good, but I never expected this. I don't think anyone did, until we got halfway done with the season. After that, we knew, we knew we had something."

They got to the World Series because they were able to put behind them the shock and frustration of Thursday's Game 5 loss, when they were seven runs up and seven outs away from the AL pennant, but the Red Sox rallied to stage the greatest comeback in a postseason elimination game. When the Rays lost that night and again Saturday, it appeared they might not recover.

But they stayed confident, and calm, and the difference was noticeable Sunday.

"We learned a lot from (Thursday), and it takes adversity to see what you're made of," Cliff Floyd said. "And through the whole season, when it got tough, we got better. I liked (Sunday) better than I liked (Saturday). That wasn't us. Today was us when we came in. It was how we played all season. It was how we prepared ourselves, (batting practice) was the same, nobody stretched, we messed around, that's what we did all season."

RAYS 3, RED SOX 1: Matt Garza pitched superbly into the eighth inning, and the Rays got big hits from Evan Longoria, Willy Aybar and Rocco Baldelli to beat the Red Sox and win the AL pennant. David Price got the biggest out of the game, striking out J.D. Drew with the bases loaded in the eighth inning, and he pitched a scoreless ninth for the save.

Rays Rants

  • RHP Matt Garza was named MVP of the AL Championship Series for going 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA, winning Games 3 and 7. In the finale, he limited Boston to one run on two hits in seven-plus innings. At 24, he is the youngest pitcher to win the ALCS MVP honor.
  • CF B.J. Upton tied three records: His seven homers in the postseason matched the AL mark (Troy Glaus, 2002 Angels). His four homers in an LCS matched a record shared by seven others (including teammate Evan Longoria), and his 11 RBIs tied the LCS mark (David Ortiz, 2004 Red Sox).
  • OF Rocco Baldelli, whose health and career were in jeopardy when he was diagnosed this spring with a mitochondrial disorder, knocked in the go-ahead run in the fifth inning. "It's beautiful man, it's so beautiful," manager Joe Maddon said.
  • Rookie LHP David Price stepped into the closer's role to get the final four outs, and he was dazzling. He struck out three of the five batters he faced in earning the save.
  • C Shawn Riggans, who had right knee surgery in September, might return to the roster as Dioner Navarro's backup for the World Series. Michel Hernandez was the backup catcher for the AL Division Series and the ALCS, but he didn't see any action.
  • Boston and Tampa Bay combined for 26 home runs; a record for not only an LCS, but for any postseason series.
  • The numbers game: 2 Teams that have gone from having the worst record in the majors one season to the World Series the next, the Rays and the 1991 Braves.

    He said what? "There's really nothing else to say expect nobody would have thought this in a million years." - OF Cliff Floyd, on the Rays going to the World Series.

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