SAN DIEGO - The angst, worry and dread that built over three consecutive losses disappeared Saturday night. The Tampa Bay Rays are going to the World Series after all.
They secured the trip, their first since 2008 and second in franchise history, with a 4-2 win over the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park.
Randy Arozarena and Mike Zunino homered to give them the early lead they craved, Charlie Morton delivered another postseason gem working into the sixth, and the bullpen took it from there, though not without some concern.
Nick Anderson got the Rays to the eighth, but after two reached, the Rays went to Pete Fairbanks. A walk loaded the bases and a single by Carlos Correa cut a 4-0 lead to 4-2, before Fairbanks got out of the inning. Fairbanks was back in the ninth to close things out.
The Rays now advance to the World Series that starts Tuesday in Arlington, Texas, to face either the Braves or the Dodgers, who are playing their own Game 7 on Sunday night.
That is certainly better than the alternative. A loss and the Rays would have joined the 2004 Yankees as the only teams to lose a best-of-seven series after taking 3-0 leads. The Yankees' flop against the Red Sox stands alone among the 39 teams to be up 3-0.
Though the Rays lost momentum in failing three straight days to close out the ALCS, they insisted they never lost confidence, or faith.
Team leader Kevin Kiermaier said he could tell by the pregame vibe in the clubhouse, loose attitude and loud music, they were in a good place Saturday.
"There's no words needed," he said. "We know what we're playing for. We want to represent this organization and get to that final stage. We're not playing for just ourselves and our family and friends. We're playing for a community, all the Rays fans out there. We want to take that final leap into playing on the biggest stage of the year."
Rays manager Kevin Cash had been talking for days about the need to get their offense going, saying before Saturday's game he was "confident that we're going we're going to break out a little bit here to give Charlie some runs."