Sports

Rays clip Astros in Game 7 to reach World Series for second time

OK, Yankees fans, here’s the good news: the Astros aren’t going back to the World Series.

The bad news?

The Yankees’ newest rivals, the Rays, are headed there instead — and the Yankees remain the only team ever to have blown a three-game series lead in the playoffs.

Tampa Bay beat Houston, 4-2, in Game 7 of the ALCS on Saturday night at Petco Park in San Diego to advance to the World Series for the second time in franchise history. They will face the winner of Sunday’s NLCS Game 7 between the Dodgers and Braves.

The Rays’ victory also prevented the Astros from having a chance to win a title the same year they were found by MLB to have used an illegal sign-stealing scheme on their way to the 2017 World Series championship.

Houston was just the second team to have forced a Game 7 after dropping the first three games of a playoff series, joining the 2004 Red Sox. Unlike Boston, though, the Astros couldn’t finish the job.

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash admitted he felt the pressure of potentially blowing the series.

A jubilant Ji-Man Choi celebrates with Peter Fairbanks after the Rays' 4-2 ALCS-clinching victory over the Astros in Game 7.
A jubilant Ji-Man Choi celebrates with Peter Fairbanks after the Rays’ 4-2 ALCS-clinching victory over the Astros in Game 7.AP

“There was a lot of anxiety,’’ Cash said.

Like some of his players, Cash said he knew all about not just the Red Sox’ famous comeback, but also the ESPN documentary made on the subject.

“Believe me, we all watched ‘Four Days in October,’’’ Cash said. “We didn’t want to see it again.”

They didn’t have to, in part due to a key member of that disgraced 2017 Astros team’s pitching staff, Charlie Morton, who shut Houston down on Saturday.

Morton blanked his former team for 5 ²/₃ innings.

Tampa Bay hit a pair of homers off Houston starter Lance McCullers Jr. to provide enough offense. The biggest blow came from October star Randy Arozarena, who gave the Rays a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first.

Mike Zunino took McCullers deep with one out in the second to make it 3-0.

Meanwhile, Morton was dominant.

He came into the game having not allowed more than an earned run in any of his previous four postseason starts — each lasting five innings.

On Saturday, the right-hander gave up a two-out single to Michael Brantley in the top of the first and then retired 14 straight.

The Astros threatened in the top of the sixth, as Morton was pulled with two on and two out, having thrown just 66 pitches.

He was replaced by Nick Anderson in a similar move to the one made in Game 6, when Cash took Blake Snell out in the fifth and went to Diego Castillo. In that game, it backfired, as Castillo struggled and let the game slip away.

This time, it worked, as Brantley, representing the tying run, grounded to second to keep it a three-run game

The Rays added to their lead in the bottom of the inning when Zunino’s sacrifice fly made it 4-0.

The Astros had another chance to cut into the lead in the seventh after consecutive one-out singles by Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker, but Yuli Gurriel’s nightmarish postseason continued when he hit into an inning-ending double play.

They broke through in the eighth, loading the bases with two out. Carlos Correa delivered a two-run single off Pete Fairbanks to cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 4-2, but Alex Bregman struck out to end the inning.

Fairbanks set the Astros down in the ninth to save it.

“It’s frustrating,’’ Houston manager Dusty Baker said. “But these guys fought. I mean, they fought to the very end. A lot of people didn’t have us making the playoffs. … This team is a bunch of fighters. One thing for sure, we’ll be back in this position next year.”

Correa put it succinctly: “Obviously, not the finale that we wanted, but I’m just f—ing proud of this team, man. It’s been an unbelievable ride.”


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