“Ground ball to second. Iwamuras got it. Rays are going to the World Series!”
Game Seven. The two words that fans dread yet love. Nothing will rip your heart out quite like a game seven defeat. Yet, nothing will bring you more joy and exhilaration than a game seven victory.
On October 19th, 2008 the Tampa Bay Rays experienced the joy and exhilaration of a game seven victory. The Red Sox, meanwhile, had their hearts ripped out at the hands of the greatest Rays team ever.
Matt Garza pitched an absolute gem making one mistake to the second hitter of the game as Dustin Pedroia deposited a hanging changeup over the left field fence. Garza would go on to give up one more hit while striking out nine Red Sox hitters over seven dominant innings.
The Rays would tie the game in the bottom of the fourth on an Evan Longoria double that scored Carlos Pena. Rocco Baldelli gave the Rays the lead in the bottom of the fifth singling home Willy Aybar.
On to the top of the seventh, which Matt Garza ended by striking out Jason Varitek. The Rays would strike in the bottom of the seventh scoring their third and final run off of Jon Lester, thanks to a Willy Aybar solo shot. The seventh inning would be the end of Jon Lester’s solid effort, one that was simply out done by Garza’s brilliance.
Garza would start the eight inning, but exit after current Red Sox manager, Alex Cora would reach on a Jason Bartlett fielding error. As Joe Maddon made his way out of the dugout and it became clear that Garza’s day was over, Rays fans rose to their feet and showed Matt Garza their appreciation with a thunderous applause. Garza approaching the dugout, tipped his cap to the 40,473 fans in attendance and watched the final six outs anxiously.
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With the bases load and two outs in the top of the eighth inning, Maddon called on the David Price. The rookie was pitching in the most important game of his life, against the defending world champion Red Sox, trying to defend a two run lead with the bases juiced.
Price locked up J.D. Drew on a ninety seven mile per hour fastball on the outside corner to get out of the bind, wearing his emotions on his sleeve and beating his glove. The Rays were now three outs away from their first World Series birth in franchise history.
Price would return to the mound in the ninth and begin by walking the leadoff batter, Jason Bay. Jason Varitek would go down looking. Mark Kotsay would strike out swinging and just like that the Rays were one out away. Pinch hitting for Alex Cora, Jed Lowrie would step to the plate and the most iconic moment in Tampa Bay Rays history would unfold.
Jed Lowrie would ground the second pitch of the at bat to Akinori Iwamura who fielded the in between hop, raced towards the bag, pouncing on it to record the final out of game seven, sending the Rays to the World Series.
Tropicana Field absolutely erupted as the Rays stormed the field toppling each other. Carl Crawford, one of the earliest (Devil) Rays, was the last Rays player to reach the pile, putting the exclamation point on the celebration, jumping on top of all twenty five or so of his teammates.
All the suffering endured throughout the first ten seasons was washed away with Aki’s joyous leap. Akinori Iwamura’s leap following the final out in Game 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series was truly the most iconic moment in Tampa Bay Rays history.
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