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Garza brilliant as Rays clinch World Series berth

Oct 20, 2008 - 5:28 AM ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (Ticker) -- It took a couple of extra games, but the Tampa Bay Rays finally get to celebrate.

Matt Garza tossed seven-plus strong innings and Willy Aybar homered to lead the Rays to a 3-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox in Game Seven of the American League Championship Series on Sunday.

Evan Longoria continued his torrid pace with an RBI double and Rocco Baldelli drove in a run for Tampa Bay, which clinched its first trip to the World Series.

"You get to those moments," said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, who won a World Series ring as the bench coach for the 2002 Anaheim Angels. "I've been there in the past and you can feel it. You can taste it.

"And again to play these guys and to be able to do that versus the Red Sox really is actually a little bit more special based on where they've come from over the last couple of years and what they've done. It's a tremendous benchmark for us to compete against them and actually win."

The Rays will host the Philadelphia Phillies in Game One on Wednesday.

Tampa Bay was seven outs away and holding a 7-0 lead in Game Five on Thursday, only to watch the Red Sox storm back and force a sixth game. Boston grabbed a 4-2 win in Game Six, leading to Sunday's all-or-nothing showdown.

"We were the underdog again after losing Game Five," veteran designated hitter Cliff Floyd said. "An underdog is a great feeling to have. We've succeeded a lot. Ninety-seven wins later, we're a great underdog."

Garza (2-0), who also picked up the win in Game Three and was named series MVP, outdueled Boston lefthander Jon Lester again on Sunday, allowing one run and two hits in seven-plus frames. The 24-year-old Garza walked three and struck out nine to pick up his second win of the ALCS.

He left a runner on, however, in the eighth inning after shortstop Jason Bartlett made an error on Alex Cora's grounder. Maddon brought on righthander Dan Wheeler, who allowed a single to Coco Crisp and retired Dustin Pedroia on a groundout.

"When I came out, I wasn't out of gas," Garza said. "I told myself from the beginning that I'm going to leave it all out there today, no matter what.

"I've got to go hard, give my team the best chance to win, and that was for me to give everything I had. I didn't know if today was my last start of the year or what, so I just went out and emptied my tank and said, 'hey, here goes, we'll see what happens.'"

Maddon then went to lefthander J.P. Howell, who battled David Ortiz for seven pitches, inducing a fielder's choice to second that left runners at the corners with two outs. The fourth pitcher of the frame was Chad Bradford, who walked Kevin Youkilis on six pitches to load the bases for J.D. Drew.

Drew, who was the hero of Game Five when he hit a two-run homer in the eighth and clubbed the game-winning single in the ninth, had the misfortune of facing rookie phenom David Price, who struck him out on a 97 mile-per-hour fastball to end the threat.

"That's something I'll take away from this - Price taking down J.D. Drew in the eighth," Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg said.

The Rays used five pitchers in the eighth.

"Is that an ALCS record?" Maddon asked. "I felt really good about David (Price) tonight. David, when you talk about him prior to the game, this young man is composed beyond his years, he really is. So it was important to get through that murderer's row that they have there and then eventually turn it over to him."

Price stayed on for the ninth and walked Jason Bay before striking out Mark Kotsay and Jason Varitek and getting pinch hitter Jed Lowrie to groundout to second, setting off a wild celebration at Tropicana Field.

"Everyone in the bullpen has to have the mindset that you could be the guy," Price said. "I didn't think of anything from my past, because there's nothing that compares with it."

Price tossed only 14 innings in the regular season and notched his first career major league win in Game Two before earning his first save on Sunday.

The Red Sox got on the board first when Dustin Pedroia drove a 1-1 offering from Garza just over the wall in left field for a solo homer.

"Pedroia's one of the best players in baseball and he wills himself to be even better than his numbers," Boston manager Terry Francona said.

Garza then walked Ortiz before retiring Youkilis and J.D. Drew. Tampa's righthander would allow only one other baserunner over the next five innings.

Lester started out even better than Garza, setting down the first nine batters he faced before allowing a leadoff single to Akinori Iwamura in the fourth. Lester struck out B.J. Upton and got Carlos Pena to ground into a fielder's choice before Longoria roped a double down the right field line. Pena beat the relay throw from Pedroia to knot the game at 1-1.

"He made a good pitch, I just flicked it over there and Carlos was hustling and able to score," Longoria said.

Tampa Bay took the lead in the following frame after Aybar led off with a double off the base of the wall in left field. Dioner Navarro then reached on an infield single before Baldelli golfed a low changeup into left field for an RBI single.

Lester (0-2) was charged with the loss, marking the first time in his professional career that he lost back-to-back starts. The lefthander allowed three runs and six hits in seven innings while striking out eight.

"Jon was tremendous out of the chute," Francona said. "He had power with all of his pitches. The run in the fourth, that was a real nice piece of hitting by Longoria. Next inning Aybar goes down and gets a breaking ball with a double."