SAN DIEGO — Kevin Cash was there in 2008 when the Tampa Bay Rays made it to the World Series for the first time. As the backup catcher of the Red Sox, he watched from the dugout when rookie David Price got the final out of a seven-game series.
Beyond being disappointed and trudging up the stairs back to the clubhouse, Cash doesn’t remember much about that night.
Now the manager of the Rays, Cash won’t forget Game 7 of the American League Championship Series played at Petco Park on Saturday night.
His bold decision-making paid off with a 4-2 victory against the Houston Astros and the franchise’s second pennant.
“It’s a special feeling,” Cash said. “I don’t know that I’ve had many better other than getting married and having three kids. It’s a special group to be a part of.”
The Rays advanced to Game 1 of the World Series in Arlington, Texas, on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday night’s NLCS Game 7 between the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers.
“We’re having the time of our lives right now, and we want to finish this off the right way,” center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said.
Cash said the series was agonizing at times. The Rays won the first three games of the Series before the Astros came back to win three in a row.
But the Rays stayed true to their organizational tenets in the biggest game of the season, making an unorthodox move with a 3-0 lead in the sixth inning
Starter Charlie Morton had a two-hit shutout going with two outs and had thrown only 66 pitches. Even with two runners on, the righthander appeared in complete command.
But when Cash popped out of the dugout, there was no conversation. Morton was pulled in favor of Nick Anderson.
A similar move had backfired on Cash in Game 6 when he took starter Blake Snell out of the game in the fifth inning and reliever Diego Castillo allowed four runs to score in what proved to be a 7-4 victory for the Astros.
Cash barely slept after the game, such was his anxiety.
But it worked this time. Anderson retired Michael Brantley to finish the inning and worked a scoreless seventh.
Taking out a veteran starter cruising through a playoff game is unconventional, but it’s also true to how Tampa Bay plays.
Morton, 36, had not pitched more than 5 2/3 innings all season, the Rays deciding it was best to have him face a batting order two times but no more.
“The thought to go get him, we have to stay consistent with what we think are the right decisions,” Cash said. “We value our process.”
Morton allowed two hits, walked one and struck out six. The highest-paid player [at $15 million] on Tampa Bay’s budget roster has a career 2.86 earned run average in 12 career postseason games.
“We’re lucky to have Charlie Morton,” Cash said. “He’s been there, done that.”
Morton has pitched four times in deciding playoff games, three Game 7s and one wild-card game. He has allowed one earned run over 19 2/3 innings and is 4-0.
“I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable,” said Morton, who played for the Astros from 2017-18. “But once I proved I could do it, I started looking forward to it.”
The Astros did not score until the eighth inning. Pinch hitter Aledmys Diaz drew a walk off Anderson and Jose Altuve singled with two outs. Pete Fairbanks replaced Anderson and walked Brantley to load the bases.
Carlos Correa singled to right field, driving in two runs. Fairbanks was on the verge of a meltdown but struck out Alex Bregman on four pitches.
The last pitch was a 100-mph fastball up and away that Bregman swung through.
Fairbanks finished the game off, leaving a runner stranded in the ninth. Fireworks exploded over an empty ballpark as the game ended.
Rookie left fielder Randy Arozarena, who hit a two-run homer in the first inning off Lance McCullers, was voted Most Valuable Player. He hit four homers and drove in six runs for the Rays during the series.
Arozarena didn’t play his first game in the regular season until Aug. 30. He is 21 of 55 in the postseason with 11 extra-base hits and 10 RBIs.
The Rays acquired Arozarena from the St Louis Cardinals in January in what seemed like a minor trade at the time. It proved to be a difference maker.
“They’ve let me be the kind of player I want to be,” said Arozarena, whose seven home runs are a record for a rookie in one postseason.
With MLB in a postseason bubble to guard against the coronavirus, the Rays spent more than two weeks in San Diego and played 12 games at Petco.
They were allowed to go back and forth from the hotel to the ballpark only.
“This is a testament to a lot of people,” Morton said.
As the Rays celebrated, Astros manager Dusty Baker was left with a 2-7 record in winner-take-all playoff games during his long career with six losses in a row.
“They’re all painful,” Baker said. “This is painful when you’re one game away from going to the World Series.”
Baker took over the scandal-ridden Astros in January and coaxed them into the expanded playoffs despite a 29-31 record.
Houston upset Minnesota and Oakland to get to the ALCS then played their best after losing the first three games.
“These guys are a bunch of fighters,” Baker said.
The 2004 Red Sox remain the only team to come back from a 0-3 deficit in the postseason.