Ashley Landis/Associated Press
The Tampa Bay Rays are going to the World Series for the first time since 2008 after defeating the Houston Astros 4-2 in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday.
Charlie Morton threw 5.2 shutout innings, striking out six. At the dish, Randy Arozarena smacked a first-inning two-run homer, and Mike Zunino launched a 430-foot solo shot to left in the second.
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
Randy Arozarena is making a name for himself 😤
7 HRs this #postseason https://t.co/T4f7hMRiwl
Bleacher Report MLB @BR_MLB
All Rays early on #MLBonTBS 💥
Astros right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. struck out seven but was pulled after 3.2 innings, allowing four hits (two home runs), three earned runs and a walk.
The Rays led 4-0 in the top of the eighth, but Houston mounted an eighth-inning rally, scoring a pair off a Carlos Correa single. Alex Bregman then walked to the plate with runners on first and second and two out, but he struck out swinging.
Houston first baseman Yuli Gurriel hit a one-out single in the ninth, but a Josh Reddick strikeout and Aledmys Diaz flyout to right ended the game.
With the win, Tampa Bay beat Houston four games to three in the seven-game ALCS. The Rays prevented Houston’s attempt to come back from a 3-0 series deficit. If the Astros had won, they would have joined the 2004 Boston Red Sox as the only teams to win an MLB playoff series despite falling behind 3-0.
However, Tampa Bay dashed those dreams and will now head to the World Series as the American League’s representative.
Rays SP Charlie Morton: 5.2 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K (Win)
Rays OF Randy Arozarena: 1-for-4, 1 R, 2 RBI, HR
Rays C Mike Zunino: 1-for-2, 1 R, 2 RBI, HR
Astros SP Lance McCullers, Jr.: 3.2 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 7 K (Loss)
Astros 2B Jose Altuve: 2-for-4, 1 R
Astros SS Carlos Correa: 1-for-4, 2 RBI
Randy Arozarena Wreaks Havoc Once Again
If you combine Arozarena’s regular season and postseason, you’ll find that he has hit 14 home runs and knocked in 21 runners in just 38 games. He hit homers in three straight games against the Yankees in the AL Division Series and smacked three dingers in a four-game stretch versus Houston.
He’s simply been sensational for Tampa Bay, which came into the playoffs ranking just 14th out of 30 MLB teams in home runs with 80. Tampa’s identity is based on pitching and defense, and on offense, the team has been more apt to manufacture runs as opposed to winning with the homer.
But Arozarena has given the Rays a new offensive dimension, one that lifts a weight off the team’s pitching and defensive efforts as it traverses the playoffs. His two-run shot gave Morton a 2-0 lead after just one inning, and the right-hander (plus the bullpen) largely cruised from there outside a shaky eighth.
Arozarena is finding himself in great company thanks to his playoff performance, per ESPN Stats & Info:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Randy Arozarena’s now has 7 home runs this postseason, the most ever by a rookie.
He trails only Barry Bonds, Carlos Beltrán and Nelson Cruz (all with 8) for the most ever in a single postseason. https://t.co/piCMKTZISl
His postseason looks even better when put in other contexts, with Jon Heyman of MLB Network offering this statistic:
Arozarena started his MLB career with the Cardinals before St. Louis traded him to Tampa Bay, where he’s done nothing but rake as he paces the pennant-winning offense in hopes of a World Series title.
Astros Can’t Solve Ex-Teammate Charlie Morton
Morton has a history of excelling in do-or-die postseason games.
As a member of the 2017 World Series champion Astros, Morton was on the winning end of Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS versus the New York Yankees and Game 7 of the World Series versus the Los Angeles Dodgers, throwing nine innings of one-run ball for nine strikeouts.
McCullers relieved (and closed out) the Yankees game for Morton, and Sarah Langs of MLB.com noted the uniqueness of that night juxtaposed with what occurred Saturday:
Sarah Langs @SlangsOnSports
Lance McCullers Jr. & Charlie Morton both pitched in 2017 ALCS+WS Game 7 for HOU
They’ll face off in 2020 ALCS G7
They’re the 1st duo in PS history to pitch in the same winner-take-all game as teammates & later start *vs each other* in a winner-take-all game
Morton moved onto the Rays two years later, and he won the 2019 American League Wild Card Game against the Oakland Athletics last year with five quality innings, allowing no earned runs and punching out four.
With the Rays’ backs against the wall in the ALDS against Houston one round later, Morton guided Tampa Bay to a 10-3 win thanks to five innings of one-run ball and nine punchouts.
The right-hander went back to work playing hero for his team Saturday, as he mowed down Houston for nearly six innings.
His playoff performances have him one step behind postseason legend Curt Schilling in one notable category, per ESPN Stats & Info:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Charlie Morton is the 5th pitcher since ER became official in both leagues in 1913 to have 5 consecutive postseason starts allowing 1 ER or fewer.
Only Curt Schilling (6) had a longer such streak. https://t.co/ESlXIYCvMd
Morton also tied Hall of Famer John Smoltz in another playoff stat, per MLB Stats:
MLB Stats @MLBStats
Charlie Morton joins John Smoltz (1991) as the only pitchers ever with MULTIPLE career starts of 5+ scoreless in a Game 7. https://t.co/RlFQvV3CfE
Danny Vietti of CBS Sports pained a picture of Morton’s postseason performances:
Danny Vietti @DannyVietti
Charlie Morton has made 11 career postseason starts
• STARTS WITH 0 ER: 4
• STARTS WITH 1 ER: 3
• STARTS WITH 2 ER: 2
• STARTS WITH 3 ER: 1
• STARTS WITH 4+ ER: 1
TBS color commentator Ron Darling put it best as Morton was setting down the Astros in order in the fifth.
“Everything is precise, everything has a reason,” Darling said on the televised broadcast. “And when he’s had to make a pitch, he’s made it every single time.”
Morton never found himself in serious trouble until the sixth. He gave up a two-out single to Michael Brantley in the first inning, but he proceeded to strike out Correa on three pitches to end the threat.
After that point, Morton retired 14 straight batters, but the Astros got two runners on in the sixth following a Martin Maldonado walk, a George Springer groundout and a two-out Jose Altuve infield single, placing runners on the corners with two out.
The Rays bullpen got the job done from there: Nick Anderson induced a Brantley groundout to end the inning, and Tampa Bay had enough insurance off Tampa’s runs (Zunino knocked in the fourth on a sixth-inning sacrifice fly) to hold on for the win.
Morton’s night ended after allowing just five balls to leave the infield in fair territory, four of which ended as harmless flyball outs. Otherwise, he mowed down hitters or induced routine groundouts while throwing just 66 pitches.
He likely could have gone far deeper in the game without further harm if he got Brantley out himself, but manager Kevin Cash’s quick hook ended up working.
From there, the Rays sprinted to the finish line, finding themselves in position to do so after Morton’s excellent start.
The Rays will face either the Los Angeles Dodgers or Atlanta Braves in the World Series, which will begin Tuesday in Arlington, Texas’ Globe Life Field.
L.A. and Atlanta are tied three games apiece in the National League Championship Series, which will conclude Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.