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OFF THE PLATE: OCTOBER 2008

In Tampa Bay, it's down to 9=1

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(Oct. 10, 2008)—ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—So the story goes, when Joe Maddon arrived in St. Petersburg in 2006, his motto was this: Losing is unacceptable. On Sunday night, on their home diamond at Tropicana Field, the Tampa Bay Rays proved they were listening.

In a dramatic finish to an American League Championship Series that caused Rays fans to cheer, cry and waver in hope, the Rays closed out the seven-game series with 3-2 win against 2007 world champs the Boston Red Sox. And what happened in Games 5 and 6 doesn't matter now that the Rays are going to the World Series.

The Garza-Price Mound

Matt Garza (pictured), the right-handed Starza, carried the tense responsibility of pitching through the 7th until Maddon sent in the relief roll call that went from Dan Wheeler to  J. Howell to Chad Bradford. And that was all in the 8th.

Then, from a bullpen that runs deep in talent for the newly branded Rays, thus spake David Price. By the time the 23-year-old left-hander took the mound, bases were loaded and Sox smash hitter J.D. Drew was up. But not for long with Drew striking out swinging. Maddon kept a good thing going by keeping Price in to pitch the 9th. While Jason Bay walked, Price struck out Mark Kotsay and Jason Varitek, with the final out called after Jed Lowrie's ground out to Akinori Iwamura at second.

We didn't see Scott Kazmir on Sunday and there were only glimpses of right-hander, 90-plus-mph king Grant Balfour. But in the spirit of Maddon's 9=8—signifying nine players playing nine innings would result in becoming one of the eight teams who make the playoffs—it was the tour de force of Rays pitchers, defense and batters that helped them advance through two post-season series.

The win tonight speaks for itself when looking at the Tampa Bay talent. Despite low expectations by fans and nonchalants alike during the regular season, the 13-year old franchise, which played its first game in March 1998, is making team history by facing off in the World Series. This year, they've won 104 games in the regular and post seasons, an epic improvement from 66 wins in 2007.

The Sox players and coaching staff showed genuinely high-brow sportsmanship toward their opponents.

"We didn't get as far as we wanted," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We got beat by a very good team, they will represent the American League well. The outcome of this game will not change my feelings on that, ever."

The Rays will face the Phillies in the 2008 World Series on Wednesday, Oct. 22, 8 p.m., ET at Tropicana Field.

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