The Rays staged one of the greatest mental comebacks in major league history Sunday night.
They might not have trailed the Boston Red Sox in games, or were that far behind in runs scored, but the Rays were on the run in Game 7 of the ALCS. After Game 5, when Boston responded from a seven-run deficit in one of the biggest comebacks in playoff history, most figured the Red Sox had the Rays conquered.
Fueled by another dominating pitching performance from Matt Garza, just enough hitting and a surprise ending provided by rookie phenom David Price, the Rays beat the Red Sox 3-1 to advance to the first World Series in franchise history.
After a stunning reversal in Game 5, the collective Boston hubris figured the Red Sox would put away the Rays, who won the regular season series, 10-8, including most of the games down the stretch, and had a 3-1 lead in the ALCS after a pair of convincing victories at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox were still the best team until the Rays proved, one more time, at the most important time, that they were better. After a shaky Game 6, which featured lots of jumpy at-bats and shaky play in the field, the Rays played with composure for nine innings — the same kind of attitude that pushed them to 97 victories in the regular season. Carlos Pena gathered the team before Game 7 to preach that simple message, one that's easier said than done.
But they did it.
Matt Garza, whose emotions got the best of him until an in-dugout argument with catcher Dioner Navarro early this season, was a terminator on the mound for seven innings. Another example of mind over matter.
Besides an early home run by Dustin Pedroia, "He gave us nothin' out there," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said of Garza.
Hard-partier Evan Longoria tied the score with a double in the fourth, and Rocco Baldelli singled home Willy Aybar in the fifth for a 2-1 lead. Aybar added a solo homer against Jon Lester in the seventh for the final margin.
The Rays' suddenly shaky bullpen was stabilized by rookie left-hander David Price, who wasn't yet a professional, much less a major leaguer, in April. He got the last four outs, including a nice wriggle out of a bases-loaded jam in the
The Rays are American League champions. Nobody, or almost nobody, saw this coming.