The Tampa Bay Rays escaped the brink on Saturday and reached their second World Series with a 4-2 win over the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series in San Diego.
The Rays, who with 40-20 the best record of the A.L. had in the shortened regular season, had been in danger of becoming the only team in baseball history to belong to the Yankees in 2004 to lose a best-of-seven series after a 3-0 lead. The Astros missed out on a win, leaving the Boston Red Sox the only team to make such a comeback.
Tampa Bay’s only previous World Series appearance was in 2008, when the Rays fell in five games against the Philadelphia Phillies. They’ll face the winner of Game 7 of the National League Championship Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves on Sunday.
Despite dropping Games 4, 5 and 6, the Rays had reason to rely on Charlie Morton, their game 7 starter. Morton is the team’s most experienced player with 13 seasons in the majors, winning Game 7 in the A.L.C.S. and in the 2017 World Series – when he was with the Astros, of all places.
He looked sharp on Saturday, working five and two-thirds innings, allowing two hits and hitting six. Randy Arozarena, the sport’s breakout October star, hit a homer two runs ahead of Lance McCullers Jr. in the first inning and gave him his seventh post-season homer – the most any rookie ever had.
Catcher Mike Zunino added a solo homer in the second inning and drove in another run with a sacrificial fly in the sixth – runs that proved crucial after the Astros hit twice on a Carlos Correa single in the eighth.
The Rays also took on a winning all-rounder game in the divisional series, Eliminating the Yankees despite an overwhelming payroll gap. The Yankees spend more on player salaries than any other team, while the Rays finished 28th out of 30 clubs this year, just ahead of Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
But they thrive with a large number of players with specific strengths expertly used by manager Kevin Cash. He often changes line-up and pitchers to get the right matchups. The Rays’ airtight defenses stole repeated hits from the Astros early in the series, and timely home races from their rackets gave them just enough attack to win.
The Rays win saves Major League Baseball the awkward scene of greeting the Astros to the league’s showcase event. The Astros won the World Series in 2017, but an M.L.B. Investigation in January confirmed that Players had stolen signals from opposing catchers From a television screen at home games during the regular season and after the season to alert players to the upcoming field of play by tapping on a trash can near the shelter.
The scandal outraged many fans and players, and while the Astros organization was fined and drafted picks – and the team’s former general manager and manager was suspended and then sacked – the Astros players were under their agreement to work together with MLB not punished investigation.
They qualified for the extended postseason despite a 29:31 record in the regular season but failed to beat the Rays – and Morton, their former teammate.