The Tampa Bay Rays punched their ticket to their second World Series in franchise history with a 4-2 win over the Houston Astros in a decisive game seven of the American League Championship Series on Saturday.
Rookie Randy Arozarena clubbed a two-run homer in the first inning and Charlie Morton worked 5 2/3 solid innings for the Rays, who won the series 4-3 and await the winners of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves clash which also headed to a game seven.
Arozarena belted a two-run homer in the first inning and now has seven homers in the postseason, matching his total from the regular season. He was named the MVP of the ALCS as the Rays celebrated their victory on the field at Petco Park in San Diego.
“He is the best player on the planet. It’s incredible,” said Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier of Arozarena.
Mike Zunino also slugged an early home run as the Rays salvaged their season and recovered from the shock of being in a winner-take-all showdown after cruising to victories in the first three games then losing three straight.
“Every night we have a different hero. Except for Randy Arozarena. He’s the hero every night,” said Rays Austin Meadows.
The Rays’ win prevented the Astros from becoming just the second team in Major League Baseball history to storm back from a 3-0 deficit.
Tampa Bay reached the World Series in 2008 before losing to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Rays starter Morton allowed just two hits, struck out six batters and walked one against the Astros.
Houston ace Lance McCullers struck out seven but allowed four hits, three runs and two home runs in just 3 2/3 innings of work.
Following a tumultuous offseason and a regular season in which they underperformed, the Astros regrouped in the postseason.
Their 2017 World Series championship lost much of its lustre after a MLB probe found Houston illegally stole opponents’ signs that year.
“This group of guys is so special, the way we fought back from adversity,” said Astros shortstop Carlos Correa on Saturday. In the NLCS, the Dodgers used another first-inning scoring burst to stay alive in the playoffs, beating the Braves 3-1 to force a decisive game.
The Dodgers are one win from advancing to their third World Series appearance in four years after pulling level at 3-3 in the best-of-seven series.
“Our team is feeling very comfortable,” said Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler. “I expect the same feeling tomorrow.”
Corey Seager and Justin Turner hit consecutive home runs for the Dodgers, who trailed 2-0 and 3-1 in the series but will now play a game seven to keep their bid to win their first World Series title since 1988 alive.
Seager slammed his fifth home run of the series and Turner launched a 418-foot shot to centrefield as the Dodgers long-ball hitters once again took a jackhammer to the Braves’ starting pitcher with three runs in the opening inning.
The Dodgers scored 11 runs in the first inning of game three en route to a crushing 15-3 victory.
“You have to give credit where credit is due,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “They have really good pitchers over there. They bring guys out of the bullpen with 100mph sinkers. That’s hard to get ahold of. They have experienced guys.
“Sometimes you get on rolls and you get in those situations and guys are getting big hits, and sometimes they aren’t.”
Buehler worked six superb shutout innings, allowing seven hits and striking out six batters. He allowed no walks.
Buehler didn’t mind being pulled from the game after the sixth inning.
“This is a testament to who our team is. I was alright with it. You want to keep getting outs, but at the end of the day we had (to protect) the lead,” he said.
Kenley Jansen needed just six pitches in the ninth inning to get three outs and record the save for the Dodgers, who are in the playoffs for the eighth straight year.
Los Angeles will send rookie right-hander Tony Gonsolin to the mound in the deciding game.
The Braves are seeking to go to their first World Series since 1999. In game seven, they will turn to rookie right-hander Ian Anderson, who has yet to give up a run in three playoff starts.
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