Rays finally show up again, reach World Series

by Gary Shelton on October 18, 2020

in general

Morton was at his best when it counted the most./JEFFREY KING

Sunday, 4 a.m.

Admit it. You doubted, didn't you?

You worried. You vexed. You sweated. You were nervous. You were irritable. You braced yourself for the worst.

And then, you celebrated, with this incredible mixture of joy and relief. It was like being pardoned from Death Row in time to lead the parade.

For three nights, you had seen the Tampa Bay Rays prepare to blow a historic lead against the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series. The longer the series went on, the more it seemed that Houston was having its way.

But look at them now, cavorting on a field a continent away after a 4-2 victory. The Rays shook of three days of mediocrity and beat the Astros in a deciding Game Seven. They will begin play in the World Series-- only the second for the franchise -- in Arlington, Texas, on Tuesday night.

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“The last three days were pretty agonizing," said Rays' manager Kevin Cash. "There’s no doubt. We definitely added to all of our stress levels. That’s a really good team over there. It would be wrong for anyone to assume we were just going to walk through that. I would have rather got it done in Game Four or Game Five than winning it in Game Seven."

The Rays post-season has been a blur, two quick wins over the Blue Jays followed by a nail-biting five-gamer against New York and then the seven games against Houston, all without days off in the middle of the series.

“Cash had mentioned it at the beginning of the year," Zunino said. "There’s two ways to look at it. You can either say this  year doesn’t count, or that this year is going to be the hardest year to get to the World Series. That was before we expanded playoffs, before  any of this stuff happened. It’s not easy."

You can be forgiven if you worried. The last half-week has been hard on Rays' fans. But before Saturday night's game, Zunino said there was a sense of calm in the clubhouse.

Perhaps that is why the Rays took control of the game quickly, getting a two-run homer from Series MVP Randy Arozarena in the first and a solo shot from Mike Zunino in the second. Zunino later added a sacrifice fly.

But most of the reason for calm was the pitching performance of pitcher Charlie Morton, who was at his best. He went 5 2/3 innings and allowed just two hits, and it was stunning to see Cash pull him when he did. Yes, that is the Rays' way, but few pitchers have been pulled when they had so convincingly tamed the opposing bats.

Morton is now 4-0 with a 0.46 ERA in four career "winner-take-all" games.

“We’re lucky to have Charlie Morton," Cash said. " We have a group that doesn't have a wealth of experience in these games., Charlie does. He’s been there, done that. The thought  to go get him? I think we’ve got to stay consistent with what we think are the right decisions. That’s not to say they’re not tough. They are. We’re so appreciative of Charlie and what he brings too us in the field and in the clubhouse.”

Still, there were runners on second and third and Michael Brantley was coming up. Cash chose to go with Nick Anderson.

"It was the third time through — we value that," Cash said. "We value our process.  Brantley is as talented a hitter as anyone in baseball.  If you give him too many looks, he’s going to get you. The leverage at that point might not have been any higher in the game with first and third. We had all the confidence in the world with him not seeing Nick that it was a better matchup. That's what we do."

True. but all situations are not the same.

"Cash pulls all the right moves." Zunino said. "But this was the best I’ve seen Charlie in the time I’ve been able to catch him the last two years.  He had everything working, had a great mix. That’s such a talented lineup over there. They don’t strike out much. They seem to barrel. He was able to keep traffic off of the bases. Seeing him do that on the biggest stage is a lot of fun."

For the Rays, it worked out. Anderson gave up a two-run single to Carlos Correa, but Pete Fairbanks came on to get four outs for the save. (Tyler Glasnow was warming in the bullpen).

Cash said he wasn't sure if he slept Friday night, but Zunino said the stress wasn't hard to deal with.

“Throw it out," he said of the Game Six loss. "We get a chance to play (Saturday). If you would have told us we have a chance to play in Game Seven to get to the World Series, all of us would have taken it."

The Rays play against the winner of tonight's Atlanta-Los Angeles series in the World Series. It begins Tuesday night at 8:09 p.m.

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