Rays Put Away Red Sox

Rays starter Matt Garza, the series MVP, throws to first following a bunt by Boston's Coco Crisp. Garza allowed just two hits and one run in seven-plus innings.
Rays starter Matt Garza, the series MVP, throws to first following a bunt by Boston's Coco Crisp. Garza allowed just two hits and one run in seven-plus innings. (By Doug Pensinger -- Getty Images)
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By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 20, 2008

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Oct. 19 -- Sleep, precious sleep, had been hard to come by for the tormented Tampa Bay Rays. If it wasn't being stolen by 1 a.m. finishes, 2 a.m. flights or 5 a.m. arrivals on the other end of the East Coast, it was being destroyed by the demon that had been unleashed upon their souls three nights earlier in Boston. In their nightmares, the Rays were always seven outs from the World Series, but held back by a sinister form with a hairy face and red socks.

Some time in the wee hours Monday, then, 25 heads, full of champagne haze, hit 25 pillows and slept the sleep of honest men. The Boston Red Sox were vanquished, finally and completely, and the Rays, the once lowly Rays, had made it to the World Series after all.

A harrowing 3-1 victory in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series got them there. It came before 40,473 believers at Tropicana Field, who stood screaming, ringing cowbells, periodically throughout the night and constantly during the pivotal eighth inning, when a rookie left-hander came on and saved the night.

Game 1 of the World Series, the Rays against the National League champion Philadelphia Phillies, will be Wednesday night, in this gray-slab concrete dome where the Rays spent a solid, horrific decade of losing -- until this year.

"I don't have words to describe what I'm feeling right now," said first baseman Carlos Peña, the only over-30 player in the Rays' starting lineup. "This is beautiful, a perfect story. It was difficult, but it makes it sweeter doing it for the home crowd."

The pile of bodies, when the final out was in the glove of second baseman Akinori Iwamura, formed around the 6-foot-6 body of David Price.

At several points late in the game, it seemed to be careening out of control again for the Rays, the demon returning. But then into the game, with two outs in the eighth and the bases loaded, strode Price, a rookie left-hander -- their mystery pitcher, used only twice before in this postseason -- who redeemed a reeling bullpen and secured the final four outs with preternatural poise and 97-mph heat.

"I'm still shaking right now," Price said, minutes after the final out, still standing on the mound.

For all their many accomplishments in a remarkable worst-to-first season, the Rays were perilously close to being remembered forever as the team that was seven outs from the World Series in Game 5 -- with a seven-run lead, no less -- and somehow found a way to lose both the game and the series. The trauma was almost too much to bear.

In other words, the Rays had no business winning Game 7, which, by the twisted logic of this series, meant they surely would.

Perhaps because he had already witnessed too many bullpen meltdowns the past few nights, Rays Manager Joe Maddon sent starter and series MVP Matt Garza back to the mound for the eighth, having thrown 116 pitches while holding the Red Sox to two hits. But pitch No. 118 became a routine grounder to shortstop that the slick-fielding Jason Bartlett booted for an error. Garza's night was over, his proud walk to the dugout punctuated by a tip of the cap in response to thunderous applause.

"I went out there and emptied my tank," Garza said, "and said, 'Hey, here goes. We'll see what happens.' "

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