The Road to the Pennant
One of the other significant changes made concerned the format of the postseason. A shortened season meant more teams would make the postseason. Eight teams from each league would earn the chance to battle for the World Series. The top two in each division automatically qualified, with the next two teams earning Wild Card spots. With the Rays claiming the AL's best record, they'd be paired against the 2nd Wild Card team, the Toronto Blue Jays. The Rays moved through Toronto in short order at Tropicana Field. Blake Snell was brilliant in Game 1, leading the team to a 3-1 win. The offense sealed the series in Game 2, getting early eight runs in the first three innings, including a grand slam by Hunter Renfroe, to win 8-2 and sweep the series.
Advancing to the ALDS, things moved West for the Rays. To avoid home-field advantage and prevent travel back and forth, the league set up a neutral site series for the rest of the postseason. The Rays were stationed in San Diego to face another AL East rival, the New York Yankees. After the Rays took a 2-1 series lead, the Yankees forced a winner-take-all Game 5. Aaron Judge and Austin Meadows traded solo home runs, and the game remained 1-1 until the bottom of the eighth inning. With one out, Mike Brosseau stepped to the plate to face Aroldis Chapman. Earlier in the season, there was an incident where Chapman buzzed Brosseau's head with a 101 mph fastball. Brosseau got his revenge with one swing. On the tenth pitch of the at-bat, Brosseau smacked a ball into the left-field bleachers to take a 2-1 lead. Diego Castillo finished the job in the ninth inning, sending the Rays to the ALCS.
In the ALCS, the Rays got their rematch against the Houston Astros. One year after the Astros ended the Rays' season, it was time for Tampa Bay to return the favor. They got off to a great start, winning the first three games of the series. The Rays had taken complete control and were one game away from winning their second American League pennant. Unfortunately, things wouldn't be that simple. Houston rattled off three straight wins to force another winner-take-all game. The offense started the job early. Randy Arozarena and Mike Zunino each homered, and Pete Fairbanks shut the door for good in the ninth. With Manuel Margot catching the final out, the Rays won their second AL pennant, marching their way to the World Series.