After Game 3 of the ALCS, I don’t think Rays fans could be any happier with how the series had played out. Although the offense wasn’t firing on all cylinders, the pitching and defense were incredible, and the Rays were finding those coveted “timely hits.”
3-0 lead? Historically there’s almost no chance the Rays could find a way to lose this series. All they needed was just one more win to secure the second American League Championship in franchise history.
Today, that three-game lead is now just a one-game lead, but the Rays are still just one win away from a trip to the World Series in the best of seven. This is only the second ALCS in franchise history, and it’s also the second time that the Rays have had a 3-2 lead in the series. We’ve been here before.
In 2008, after dropping Game 1 to Daisuke Matsuzaka and the Boston Red Sox, the Rays strung together three victories and looked to be coasting to their first ever World Series. Then, in Game 5, the Rays accrued a seven run lead, and after six shutout innings from Scott Kazmir, they handed it over to their stellar bullpen.
That night the bullpen crumbled, and there was plenty of space in the minds of Rays fans for doubt to creep in. That seven run lead was erased in just two innings, as Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler gave up a combined seven hits, including two home runs. And just like this year’s Game 5, the bad guys won it on a walk off in the ninth.
The Rays would go on to lose the next game as well, bringing the series to Game 7. We all know how that went, and even though the emotional payoff of winning a game like that is invaluable, I doubt anyone even wants to think about a Game 7 this year.
There are plenty of other parallels between these two series. The rookie Randy Arozarena is on pace to eclipse records set in 2008 by Evan Longoria and BJ Upton, and by the end of the month he may have put together the greatest postseason offensive performance the game has ever seen, should Tampa Bay advance.
The rotation of Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, and Charlie Morton may remind Rays fans of the ‘08 rotation that included James Shields, Matt Garza, and Scott Kazmir. The ‘08 bullpen may not have had a nickname as cool as “The Stable,” but the four horsemen of Grant Balfour, Troy Percival, Dan Wheeler, and J.P. Howell were just as menacing.
Despite the Rays having better regular season records than both the ‘08 Red Sox and the ‘20 Astros, both of those teams were the defending American League Champions, and had rosters littered with All Stars. They both had MVP-winning second basemen as well. Even though the Rays were most likely the better team in both years, there were moments where it felt like the odds were stacked against them.
Only one team in the history of the sport has come back from a 3-0 deficit in a seven-game series, the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Only four teams have ever won two games as the Astros have after dropping the first three.
It’s been a crazy year, but if in March of 2020, if you had told me the Rays would have a shot to clinch the ALCS in Game 6, I would have taken that in any form.
That’s what we’re dealing with tonight.
Blake Snell on the mound, plenty of arms ready to come out of the bullpen. If you believe in momentum, the Astros have that, but the Rays have also showed us how fast that momentum can be flipped. After all, the deciding Game 5 of the ALDS was just a week ago!
If you’re really worried about where this series is headed, think back to 2008.
There might just be a few more magical moments waiting for this team. Let’s hope we see one tonight.