The Tampa Bay Rays won the American League pennant on Saturday, guaranteeing the 2020 World Series champ will be first-time winner of this century.
Randy Arozarena slugged a two-run homer and starting pitcher Charlie Morton shut down his former teammates, leading Tampa Bay to a 4-2 victory over the scandal-plagued Houston Astros in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series in San Diego.
Arozarena hit his first-inning shot off losing Houston pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., an alum of Tampa's Jesuit High School, which is a mere 20 miles from the Rays' home park, Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
Morton, who won a World Series ring pitching for the Astros in 2017, threw 5 2/3 shutout innings on Saturday.
The Rays will face the National League Championship Series winner, either the Atlanta Braves or Los Angeles Dodgers. The deciding Game 7 of the NLCS is set for Sunday, with first pitch at 8:15 p.m. ET.
"I'm extremely grateful. This hasn't been the easiest road to this point," said Rays catcher Mike Zunino, who also hit a home run Saturday.
"My wife's been amazing, she's supported me through this whole thing, I love you babe. But I mean this is what we play for. It's going to be fun. We're ready to head to Dallas."
The Astros were trying to cheat history and become only the second team in baseball history to rally from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-7 playoff series.
"These guys fought, I mean they fought to the very end," Astros Manager Dusty Baker said. "This team is a bunch of fighters, a bunch of guys with a tremendous amount of perseverance and fortitude."
The ALCS was played at San Diego's Petco Park as MLB hopes bubbles will keep players and staff safe from the coronavirus pandemic. The virus forced much of spring training to be canceled and MLB teams played a truncated 60-game schedule, far less than the normal, annual slate of 162 games.
Tampa Bay's 2020 AL title is no fluke, as the Rays were the AL's best team in the regular season, winning 40 of those 60 games.
With the Astros, controversial world champions of 2017, now out of the picture, that means the next World Series winner will bring home a trophy not seen in their city for decades - and in the Rays' case, ever.
- Tampa Bay, an expansion team that began play in 1998, won the 2008 AL pennant before falling to the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. This marks their first trip back to the Fall Classic since.
- Atlanta had been one of baseball’s model franchises of the 1990s and early 2000s with the “Big Three” starting pitchers of John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. But the Braves consistently fell short in October, and Atlanta captured its only World Series title in 1995 by besting the Cleveland Indians in six games.
- Meanwhile, the Dodgers have baseball’s 10th-longest title-less string, in a remarkable run of October futility given L.A.’s recent run of April-through-September domination. The Dodgers, champions of the NL West for eight straight seasons, haven’t won the World Series since 1988, when Ronald Reagan occupied the White House and Blockbuster was still years away from being the dominant force in home entertainment.
Since 2000, the Commissioner's Trophy has been lifted four times by the Red Sox (2004, 2007, 2013, 2018), three times by the San Francisco Giants (2010, 2012, 2014), twice by the New York Yankees (2000, 2009) and St. Louis Cardinals (2006, 2011), and once each by the Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks (2001), Chicago Cubs (2016), Houston Astros (2017), Florida Marlins (2003), Anaheim Angels (2002), Kansas City Royals (2015), Chicago White Sox (2005) and last year's champion, the Washington Nationals.