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Tampa Bay Rays win American League pennant, will face Dodgers or Braves in World Series

Elimination of the Houston Astros means the 2020 Fall Classic champion will be a first-time, 21st-century winner.
Image: MLB: ALCS-Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay Rays catcher Mike Zunino (10) celebrates with shortstop Willy Adames (1) after hitting a solo home run against the Houston Astros in game seven of the 2020 ALCS at Petco Park in San Diego, California.Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Reuters

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.

The neutral-site World Series starts Tuesday at Globe Life Field, the new home of the Texas Rangers, in Arlington.

"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.

The bridesmaid Dodgers have also run into bad luck, losing the 2017 and 2018 World Series to the Astros and Boston Red Sox,both later implicated in sign-stealing scandals.

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.