The least experienced of the youthful enough and hungering enough Tampa Bay Rays punches out J.D. Drew with ducks on the pond to finish the eighth. As if to punctuate the hazards of trying to establish new and untouchable records for casting castaways, said Ray, David Price, refused to let a ninth-inning pass rattle him off a punchout, a swishout, and a pennant-winning forceout.
And there you saw the most glaring of numerous reasons why the Rays, who've been playing rather like the 1969 Mets most of the season, are going to the World Series and the Boston Red Sox, those masters of the miracle in-series self-resurrections, came up one such resurrection short in five seasons featuring a pocketful of them.
This is not to say that Matt Garza was anything short of excellent on the mound when he needed most to be in Game Seven; nor is it to say that Evan Longoria doubling home Carlos Pena with two out in the fourth, Rocco Baldelli swatting home Willy Aybar with nobody out and two on in the fifth, or Aybar leading off the seventh with a liner over the left field fence, had nothing much to do with why the Rays end up bearding the Phillies and the Red Sox end up beared and bonded for home with little much to show but two valiant eleventh-hour efforts at keeping the Rays at bay in Games Five and Six.
But you're not going to the World Series too often when you spend a League Championship Series putting forty-one men into scoring position and cashing in a mere fourteen of them. And you're not going to the World Series too often when you have thirty chances to hit with men in scoring position and two out and you cash in a mere seven, three on a three-run bomb.
Garza was effective but not necessarily invulnerable Sunday night. He threw enough hittable pitches with which the Red Sox, who'd shown some early game patience against him and wrung a few good counts out of him, simply couldn't connect. Oh, there was Dustin Pedroia sending one into the left field bleachers with one out in the top of the first. But that was exactly how the Rays would limit their generosity.
Anyone seeking further evidence of their lack of charitability need only refer back to Pedroia and David Ortiz collaborating on a grand implosion in the top of the sixth, at a point where Garza seemed to be draining what remained of his tanks. Pedroia, hankering to kick any semblance of a Boston running game back into gear, with usual speed pressers Coco Crisp only half effective while Jacoby Ellsbury remained on the bench, having hit himself right out of the ALCS lineup early and often enough, took a lead comparable to that you might see from an arthritic guard dog, and Ortiz took a swing right under a Garza rider for a strike-em-out, throw-em-out rally killer.
Price's magnificent rally-killing swishout of Drew throttled what should have been a Red Sox game-equaliser and perhaps breaker, what Red Sox Nation surely believed to be yet another eleventh-hour uprising portending a witching-hour wonder, when Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett mishandled Boston counterpart Alex Cora's (starting almost inexplicably in capable young Jed Lowrie's place) hopper to open the inning, getting Garza a well-earned rest at last.
Dan Wheeler lasted long enough to surrender a single by Crisp to set up first and second and lure Pedroia into a fly out to left. But J.P. Howell drew Ortiz into forcing Crisp at second, cutting the Red Sox basepath speed in half and bringing in lamppost-style submariner Chad Bradford (who probably has more postseason experience combined than any fellow Rays collectively) to take care of Kevin Youkilis. Except that Youkilis managed to wring a walk out of Bradford, loading the pads and compelling Rays manager Joe Maddon to reach for Price.
You'd have thought the rookie had had his brains purged of any memory of him being a rookie, the Rays never having been anywhere within the same area code of the postseason before, or Drew having helped delay the Rays' World Series ticket with the two-run bomb that closed the deficit to one in the eighth of Game Five or the walkoff single that nailed it for the Red Sox an inning later.
Pump! Swish! Schalumph!
It was more than Jon Lester's own serviceable outing or their bullpen's brave stand that the Red Sox malspent Sunday night.
But neither mourn nor scorn. These Red Sox, with a nip here and a tuck yonder, will likely have an impossible time of staying away from the postseason races next season, all other things considered equal, including the refreshing emergence of the Rays from laughingstocks to leaders of the pack. For this season, however, the Red Sox have to answer to no actual or alleged extraterrestrial influences to explain their dispatch.
For once in their formerly transdimensional history, if not quite with the frightful deflation of the Chicago Cubs a fortnight earlier, the Red Sox lost a pennant the old-fashioned way. They earned it.
The Rays, who earned every stitch and stroke of their first pennant, have to answer to only one more aggregation starting Wednesday. And before the Rays become a little too saturated with their magnificent lift from the worst to the first in their league after a decade's worth of disaster, they should know their opponent has in an institutional and centurion sense what they've only had a comparative drop of tasting.
Franchises that have lost ten thousand games have an awful lot more to prove, to themselves and to their only-too-infamously-cynical fans. And nothing, including their week-plus rest, relaxation, and preparation suggests the Phillies---who have one exactly one more World Series in over a century than the Rays have won in over a decade---have any intention of proving otherwise.