MLB playoffs: Rays stave off Astros comeback to reach World Series - Sports Illustrated

Rays Punch Ticket to World Series Behind Morton, Arozarena

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For the second time in franchise history, the Rays have won the pennant.

Behind a strong pitching performance by starter Charlie Morton and a pair of relievers, the Rays beat the Astros, 4-2, in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, punching their ticket to the World Series.

Tampa Bay was able to stave off a Houston comeback and avoid becoming the second team ever to blow a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series. The last time that happened was the 2004 ALCS, when the Red Sox came back to beat the Yankees. Instead, the Rays became the first team in MLB history to win the first three games of a series, lose the next three and recover to win Game 7.

The Rays jumped out to an early lead on a two-run homer by rookie sensation Randy Arozarena in the first inning. It was Arozarena's seventh home run of the playoffs, the most ever by a rookie in a single postseason. He's one homer shy of tying the mark by any player in one postseason, which is shared by three players: Nelson Cruz (2011), Carlos Beltran (2005) and Barry Bonds (2002).

Tampa Bay tacked on another run in the second on a solo homer by Mike Zunino, his fourth of the postseason. That was all the support Morton needed, as he cruised through the game's first five innings. He allowed only one baserunner through five, and at one point retired 14 consecutive batters.

Morton was pulled in the sixth with two outs and runners on the corners despite throwing only 66 pitches. Manager Kevin Cash replaced him with Nick Anderson, who got Michael Brantley to ground out to end the inning.

The Rays tacked on an insurance run with a sacrifice fly by Zunino in the sixth that scored Ji-Man Choi. Anderson pitched out of a jam in the seventh, then allowed two baserunners in the eighth and was pulled with two outs. He passed the baton to Peter Fairbanks, who loaded the bases with a walk. Houston got on the board on Carlos Correa's single that drove in two runs and made the score 4-2. Correa advanced to second on a passed ball to put the tying run in scoring position, but Fairbanks escaped the jam by striking out Alex Bregman.

Fairbanks recorded the last three outs in the ninth, ending Houston's season and sending the Rays to the Fall Classic. Tampa Bay last made the World Series in 2008—their 11th season in existence and first-ever trip to the playoffs—when they lost to the Phillies in five games. This year marks the franchise's fifth trip to the postseason since 2008, though they hadn't advanced passed the ALDS until this year.