The Rays continued their Cinderella season with a 3-1 win against the Red Sox on Sunday night in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Tampa Bay eliminated AL East foe Boston to advance to the World Series, where it'll host Philadelphia on Wednesday night at Tropicana Field for Game 1.
In the 2008 regular season, the Rays never faced the Phillies during Interleague Play. But Tampa Bay is 10-5 historically in Interleague Play against Philadelphia -- having won four out of five series, including a three-game sweep at Tropicana Field in 2001.
Considerable depth in their Minor League system has allowed the Rays to withstand key injuries this season, as each bench player has played an integral part in the franchise's historic run. Most importantly, third-year manager Joe Maddon -- who won a World Series as a bench coach with the Angels in 2002 -- has his young team excited and believing it can win it all.
By month: March/April 15-12, May 19-10, June 16-10, July 13-12, August 21-7, September 13-14
The offseason trade for right-hander Matt Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett
Executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman made a key deal on Nov. 28, 2007, sending outfielder Delmon Young and infielder Brendan Harris to the Twins in exchange for Garza and Bartlett. The 24-year-old Garza has arguably the best stuff on the Rays' staff, finishing 11-9 with a 3.70 ERA, including three complete games. Meanwhile, Bartlett has been the glue of the infield defense and is often referred to by Maddon as the team's MVP. It's no coincidence that the first-place club went 7-9 when Bartlett was on the disabled list, as he has helped shore up a historically iffy Rays middle infield.
The callup of third baseman Evan Longoria
On April 12, the Rays recalled the then 22-year-old Longoria from Triple-A Durham in the wake of an injury to Opening Day third baseman Willy Aybar. Two nights later, Longoria blasted his first home run and, despite missing the month of August with a fractured right wrist, hasn't stopped the curtain calls since. Longoria's 25 homers led all rookies, and his .545 slugging percentage is the highest by a rookie third baseman in Major League history. An AL All-Star, Longoria homered three times on Sept. 18 against the Twins, and he gives the lineup a powerful right-handed bat.
Winning at Fenway Park
The Sept. 8-10 series was arguably the biggest statement made during the Rays' season, as Tampa Bay had posted an 0-6 record going into the three-game set on Boston's home terrain. After dropping the first game, the Rays pulled out a 5-4 win on Sept. 9 courtesy of a solo homer from recent callup Dan Johnson and a double from rookie Fernando Perez. Dioner Navarro delivered the game-winning ninth-inning RBI as Tampa Bay stunned closer Jonathan Papelbon and the Fenway faithful. The Rays clinched the series -- and kept their position atop the AL East -- with the following night's 4-2 win in 14 innings.
Rays' turning point
Maddon frequently references an extra-inning win in Toronto on May 8 as the defining moment for his young club. After getting swept in the previous three-game set in Boston, the Rays -- who had squandered a three-run lead to the Blue Jays the night prior -- were on the verge of dropping their second straight road series. But a five-run 13th inning -- capped off by Navarro's grand slam -- gave Tampa Bay the win and some sorely needed momentum. In years past, the young, unproven team would have crumbled, but the Rays' grit -- as much as the outcome -- was an indicator of the season to come.
Runs: 774, 9th in AL
HRs: 180, 4th in AL
OPS: .762, 8th in AL
Avg.: Navarro, .295
HRs: Carlos Pena, 31
RBI: Pena, 102
Runs: Akinori Iwamura, 91
OPS: Longoria, .874
SB: B.J. Upton, 44
Avg.: Pena, .333 (12-for-36)
HRs: Upton, 7
RBI: Upton, 15
Runs: Upton, 13
SB: Crawford, 6
The Rays' offense made a living off timely hitting in the regular season, as the club lacked a .300 hitter or a 40-homer bat. But you wouldn't know it by the way Tampa Bay swung the lumber in the ALCS, even though speedsters like Crawford, Upton and Bartlett make the Rays a threatening opponent with runners on base. Against the Red Sox, Longoria and Upton combined to hit eight of the Rays' 16 homers in the ALCS. In addition, Tampa Bay hit four or more homers in ALCS Games 2-5, a postseason record.
Overall ERA: 3.82, 2nd in AL
Starters ERA: 3.95, 2nd in AL
Bullpen ERA: 3.49, 2nd in AL
Strikeouts: 1143, 3rd in AL
HRs allowed: 166, 9th in AL
Opponents BA: .246, 2th in AL
Wins: James Shields, Edwin Jackson, 14
ERA (starter): Scott Kazmir, 3.49
ERA (reliever min. 30 appearances): Grant Balfour, 1.54
Strikeouts: Kazmir, 166
Saves: Troy Percival, 28
Holds: Dan Wheeler, 26
HRs allowed: Shields, 24
Opponents' BA: Balfour, .143
Overall ERA: 3.52
HRs allowed: 14
Opponents BA: .235
Wins: Garza, Andy Sonnanstine, 2
ERA (starter): Garza, 3.32
ERA (reliever): Trever Miller, 0.00
Strikeouts: Garza, 18
Saves: Price, Wheeler, 1
Holds: J.P. Howell, 4
The Rays' starting five all recorded at least 11 wins in the regular season, and their consistency has kept the club afloat despite periods of offensive struggle. Shields, Sonnanstine, Garza and Kazmir combined to go 6-3 in the ALDS and ALCS. And when Tampa Bay gets deeper into the game, it only gets better. The club has gone from a Major League-worst 6.16 bullpen ERA in 2007 to an impressive 3.54 mark this season. The only real question for the World Series is the health of closer Percival, who was not on the ALDS and ALCS roster. The Rays have primarily leaned on Wheeler in the late innings, although Maddon has not hesitated to use middle relievers Balfour and Howell in big situations down the stretch.
Errors: 90, 4th fewest in AL
Defense and starting pitching has been the Rays recipe for success and the club's infield is arguably the best in the Major Leagues. With the return of Crawford -- who missed nearly two months with right middle finger surgery -- the Rays' outfield is equally impressive. Upton and Crawford are above-average fielders with serious speed and are a big plus given the staff's high fly-ball ratio. The only question remains in right field, as the Rays have gone with a platoon of Gabe Gross, Rocco Baldelli and recently Perez, but lack an everyday player.
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.