The Tampa Bay Rays have done the improbable: They beat the Boston Red Sox on Sunday night by a score of 3-1 and earned themselves the title of 2008 American League Champions and a trip to the 2008 World Series to face the Philadelphia Phillies.
In the fifth inning, Rocco Baldelli singled to score Willy Aybar, giving the Rays a 2-1 lead they would not give up. The Rays had gotten a previous run in the bottom of the fourth inning with a double to right field by Evan Longoria, scoring Carlos Pena.
The Red Sox scored their lone run in the top of the first inning with a solo home run from Dustin Pedroia, his third long ball of the American League Championship Series.
Aybar smacked a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh, his second of the ALCS, making the score 3-1 and putting the proverbial nail in the Red Sox' coffin.
Matt Garza took the ball for the Rays tonight. He lasted seven innings, gave up one earned run on six hits, walked three, and fanned nine.
Jon Lester pitched for Boston. He tossed seven innings, gave up three earned runs on six hits, walked none, and struck out eight. He lost the game tonight, and went 0-2 over the two games he pitched in the ALCS. This was also the first time Lester lost consecutive games in 2008.
Dan Wheeler and J.P. Howell each recorded a hold, and David Price nailed down his first career save.
Garza, who picked up the win tonight and in Game Three of the series, earned the Most Valuable Player award of the ALCS. Over the two games he pitched in, he went 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA and struck out 14 batters over those two games.
"As a kid, everyone dreamed of this," said Garza to the media after the announcement. "We believed all year we could do this, and it's awesome."
"He was phenomenal," said Red Sox skipper Terry Francona to the media after the game about Garza. "Beside that homer to Pedey (Pedroia), he was unstoppable."
"This is amazing," said Price to the press after the game. "A little better than pitching at Vanderbilt."
The best record the Rays ever held prior to the 2008 campaign was a 70-91 overall record in the 2004 season. They certainly turned it around this season, going 97-65, good for the American League Eastern Division title, their first trip to the postseason in their 10-year history, the American League title, and their first ever trip to the World Series.
Because the American League won the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium back on July 15, the Rays will host the Phillies in Game One of the World Series at Tropicana Field on Wednesday, Oct. 22 at 8:00 PM ET.
The Phillies will start Cole Hamels (14-10, 3.09 ERA during the regular season) in Game One of the World Series. The Rays have not yet announced who will start Game One of the World Series; however, Scott Kazmir (12-8, 3.49 ERA during the regular season) is the likely candidate.
photo/sources/credit: USATODAY.com, MLB.com, Baseball-Reference.com