Charlie Morton was fantastic across 5-2/3 scoreless innings on Saturday, while Tampa Bay homered in the first two frames, as the Rays finished off the Houston Astros, 4-2, in game seven of the 2020 American League Championship series. In doing so, the Rays punched their ticket to the World Series for the first time since 2008, and the second time in franchise history.
Charlie Morton pushed in his best outing of the season, allowing just two hits across 5-2/3 efficient innings, while striking out six and walking one on 66 pitches (48 strikes, 73% strike rate, 15% SwStr%). Over the first five frames, Morton allowed just one base hit — to Michael Brantley — while striking out five on 49 pitches. Yet, Houston made things interesting in the sixth with the Rays ahead by three. Martín Maldonado walked on four pitches with one out. George Springer followed by grounding into a 5-4 fielder’s choice for the second out. After Jose Altuve worked the count full, and with Springer was on the move, Altuve beat out a chopper to third to put runners on the corners with two outs. Given that Morton’s OPS increased to 1.006 the third time through the order, Rays skipper Kevin Cash called upon Nick Anderson in the high leverage situation. Anderson got Brantley to ground out to second on the second pitch of the at-bat, ending the threat.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay took the lead in the first inning against right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. Manuel Margot was hit by the very first pitch of the game — a 96 mph fastball. After Brandon Lowe struck out swinging on a slider moving in off the plate, Randy Arozarena blasted a 2-2 fastball over the right-center wall for an early two-run lead. It was Arozarena’s fourth homer of the series and the seventh of the postseason — setting an MLB rookie record. The seven home runs tied BJ Upton’s total in 2008 for the most hit by a Ray in the postseason.
Then in the second, Zunino launched a solo homer into the second deck after an eight-pitch at-bat. It was Zunino’s second home run off McCullers in the series and his fourth in the playoffs — one shy of the MLB record for postseason home runs by a catcher set by Sandy Alomar in 1997.
Tampa Bay eventually chased McCullers after 3-2/3 innings and 75 pitches. The right-hander did strike out seven, however, he also gave up four hits, a walk, and hit a batter. Brooks Raley got the final out in the frame, while José Urquidy worked a scoreless fifth to keep Houston within striking distance for the next couple of frames.
However, Urquidy couldn’t hold back Tampa Bay forever, and the Rays got a key insurance run in the sixth. Ji-Man Choi singled and Willy Adames walked putting two on with none out. Choi moved up to third on Joey Wendle’s fly-ball to right then tagged up and scored on Zunino’s fly-ball out to center — his second run batted in of the game.
Houston put up another threat in the seventh when Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker hit back-to-back singles, putting runners at the corners. However, Yuli Gurriel grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, keeping the shutout intact.
After 1-1/3 innings of work, Anderson took the mound again in the eighth and allowed a rare one-out walk to pinch-hitter Aledmys Diaz. After he allowed a two-out infield single to Altuve, Cash called on stable reliever Pete Fairbanks … who promptly walked Brantley, loading the bases for Carlos Correa. Houston’s shortstop hit a single to right, scoring Diaz and Altuve to bring the Astros within two. But Fairbanks fanned Alex Bregman, limiting the damage, ending the frame, and keeping the Rays’ lead intact.
Finally, in the ninth, Fairbanks struck out Tucker before Gurriel singled to right on a 2-1 slider. Fairbanks worked around the base hit by striking Josh Reddick out and coaxing a game-ending can-of-corn from Diaz, punching Tampa Bay’s ticket to the World Series.
RAAAAAAAANDY Arozarena was named the ALCS MVP by Julia Shehadi (TBS) in an awkward set of post-game, pre-celebration interviews.
Oh, and we can’t forget this nugget of a turd from the “fine journalists” over at the NY Post.
The World Series kicks off on Tuesday. Who the Rays will face will be sorted out today in game seven of the NLCS. We will have our World Series preview before the first pitch on Tuesday.