SAN DIEGO — The Houston Astros fell to the Tampa Bay Rays 4-2 in Game 7 of their AL Championship Series Saturday night.
Trailing 3-0 in the series earlier this week, Houston players watched a documentary about Boston’s 2004 rally from a similar deficit against the Yankees — the only time in baseball’s 116-year postseason history a club trailed 3-0 and advanced.
Rookie Randy Arozarena homered again, 36-year-old Charlie Morton was brilliant against his former team and the Tampa Bay Rays reached the World Series for the second time.
The Rays will face either the Los Angeles Dodgers or Atlanta Braves in the World Series in Arlington, Texas, starting Tuesday night. Game 7 of the NLCS is Sunday night.
Tampa Bay’s only other World Series appearance was in 2008, when it lost to the Philadelphia Phillies.
The innovative Rays led the AL with a 40-20 record in the pandemic-shortened season. Known for their pitching and defense, they also introduced the concept of the starter and sometimes deploy a four-man outfield.
Tampa Bay snapped a three-game losing streak and prevented the Astros from matching the 2004 Boston Red Sox, the only major league team to rally from a 3-0 deficit to win a seven-game series.
The Rays also kept the Astros from becoming the first team to win a pennant with a losing regular-season record (29-31).
The loss ended Houston's first season since its sign-stealing scandal was revealed. The Astros were viewed by many fans as villains for their role in the cheating scandal en route to the 2017 title against the Dodgers.
Mike Zunino homered and drove in two runs for the Rays, who avoided the ignominy of joining the 2004 New York Yankees, who took a 3-0 lead in the ALCS and lost four straight to the Red Sox. Boston went on to win its first World Series in 86 seasons.
Arozarena, relatively unknown before these playoffs, set a rookie record with his seventh homer of the postseason. His 21 hits are one shy Derek Jeter’s 1996 rookie postseason record.
Nicknamed “The Cuban Rocket,” the 25-year-old Arozarena drove a 1-1 sinker from Lance McCullers Jr. to right-center field at Petco Park with one out in the first for a two-run homer.
Morton held the Astros to two hits in 5 2/3 scoreless innings while striking out six and walking one. He retired 14 straight batters until walking Martin Maldonado with one out in the sixth. George Springer forced Maldonado and took third on José Altuve’s two-out infield single, and manager Kevin Cash pulled Morton after just 66 pitches. Nick Anderson came on and retired Michael Brantley.
Morton is the first major leaguer to earn the victory in four winner-take-all games, including Game 7 of the 2017 World Series and Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS against the Yankees when he was with Houston. He signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent before the 2019 season and won the wild card game at Oakland last year. The Rays were then eliminated by the Astros in the ALDS.
The Astros broke through against the Rays' bullpen in the eighth. Carlos Correa hit a two-run single off Pete Fairbanks before the reliever struck out Alex Bregman on a 100 mph fastball.
Fairbanks worked around a one-out single in the ninth to close it.
McCullers Jr. lasted only 3 2/3 innings. He allowed three runs and four hits, struck out seven and walked one.
Morton and McCullers became the first pair to pitch in the same winner-take-all postseason game as teammates and later start against each other in a winner-take-all game. In the decisive Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, McCullers started and went 2 1/3 scoreless innings while Morton pitched the final four innings for the victory.
Zunino hit a solo shot into the second deck in left off McCullers with one out in the second and added a sacrifice fly in the sixth. On Friday night, he snapped his bat over his knee in frustration after striking out on three pitches.
Below are highlights from the game:
Carlos Correa's 2-run single gets Houston on the board. Tampa Bay still leads 4-2.
Ji-Man Choi scores on Mike Zunino's sac fly to extend Tampa Bay's lead to 4-0.
Charlie Morton is pulled with two on and two out. Nick Anderson relieves Morton and retires the side. Rays still lead 3-0.
Pitching change: Brooks Raley comes in to relieve Lance McCullers Jr. who had 7 Ks before he was pulled.
Meanwhile, Charlie Morton has 5 strikeouts through 4 innings.
Mike Zunino hits a home run to left off of Lance McCullers Jr. to extend Tampa Bay's lead to 3-0.
Randy Arozarena hits a 2-run homer to right center off of Lance McCullers Jr. to put the Rays on the board first, 2-0.
One young Houston fan has the perfect view for his first Astros game!