The Tampa Bay Rays celebrate their first World Series berth since 2008 in Saturday night’s 4-2 win over the Houston Astros. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
After two thrilling series that culminated in two Game 7s, the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers emerged as the teams representing the American and National leagues in the World Series.
In a new playoff format with 16 teams (compared to the regular 10) designed to increase competition in MLB, the two No. 1 seeds both advance to the final showdown for the Commissioner’s Trophy.
For the first time in MLB history, a best-of-three Wild Card series began the postseason, with eight teams from both leagues battling to get to the Division Series. For both World Series teams, this first series was a breeze, as both got the 2-0 sweep over the Toronto Blue Jays and the Milwaukee Brewers.
In the ALDS, the Rays ran into the explosive New York Yankees, who had put up 22 runs in a two-game sweep of the Cleveland Indians. After giving up just three runs to the Blue Jays, Giancarlo Stanton and the rest of the Yankees offense pushed 23 runs across home plate in the first four games of the ALDS.
Game 5 was a stark contrast, with the game tied at 1 in the eighth inning before a Mike Brosseau solo shot sent the Rays through to the ALCS against the Houston Astros, who finished the shortened regular season under .500 (29-31).
Meanwhile, the Dodgers coasted past the San Diego Padres in a three-game sweep, out-scoring the exciting Padres offense 23-9 in their NLDS.
In the League Championship Series, the trend of cruising through was broken for the Dodgers, who fell behind to the Atlanta Braves, 3-1. The Rays did the opposite, going ahead 3-0 and practically assured of their second World Series berth in franchise history.
However, the script quickly flipped for the Rays, who lost back-to-back 4-3 games before falling 7-4 in Game 6, with the bats of Carlos Correa, Georgia Springer, Michael Brantley and Jose Altuve pushing the Astros back into the series, giving them a chance to become the second team in MLB history (2004 Boston Red Sox) to overcome a 3-0 deficit.
While the Rays struggled to win the final game to get to the Fall Classic, the Dodgers began to regain their previous form with their backs against the wall. A clutch three-run home run in Game 5 by Will Smith (off Braves’ pitcher Will Smith) led the Dodgers to a 7-3 win, and a shutdown performance from starting pitcher Walker Buehler in Game 6 forced the second LCS Game 7 this year.
After the Dodgers’ 3-1 win Saturday night, the Rays started their Game 7 with a bang; a two-run first-inning home run off the bat of eventual ALCS MVP Randy Arozarena, giving the Rays an early 2-0 lead and giving Arozarena the MLB record for most postseason home runs from a rookie (7; though he did get four at-bats in the playoffs with the St. Louis Cardinals last year).
Rays catcher Mike Zunino split the RBIs with Arozarena, adding his own solo shot in the bottom of the second and a sacrifice fly to score Ji-Man Choi in the sixth.
With a 4-0 lead heading into the eighth inning, the Rays were just six outs away from a World Series berth. However, things got interesting with a two-out single from Correa scored two runs, cutting the deficit in half.
The Rays were able to lock down and get the final four outs, and advanced to their first World Series since 2008.
On Sunday night, the Braves jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, with a first-inning single from Marcell Ozuna and a Dansby Swanson solo shot in the second putting the Dodgers in an early hole.
But the Dodgers quickly responded, with a two-run single off the bat of Will Smith tying the game at 2 in the third inning.
In the fourth inning, the Braves missed out on a golden opportunity to put the Dodgers in a massive hole. An Austin Riley single gave the Braves the lead at 3-2, and runners on second and third – after a wild pitch – for the next hitter (Nick Markakis) and nobody out, the Braves had the perfect chance to extend their lead.
However, on a ground ball to Dodgers’ third baseman Justin Turner, Swanson tried to score from third, getting caught in a run down and tagged by Turner. While Swanson was trying to score, Riley also attempted to advance to third, but was tagged sliding into third, instantly killing the Braves chances for a big inning.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, pinch hitter Kike Hernandez smoked a solo home run to deep left-center field, and Cody Bellinger added his own solo shot in the seventh to flip the score from 3-2 Braves to 4-3 Dodgers.
That’s where the score would stay, with Julio Urias coming in to pitch from the seventh inning on, throwing three perfect innings, putting down the last nine Braves hitters easily.
Corey Seager was given the NLCS MVP after hitting five home runs over the seven-game series. Clutch hitting and superb defense from Mookie Betts kept the Dodgers in this series.
Now, the best team in the AL faces the best of the NL in a match-up that promises to be a highly competitive match-up. The Dodgers will likely be the favorite, but the Rays can certainly no longer be slept on.
First pitch of Game 1 will be at 8:09 p.m. Tuesday night.