In this post I'd like to go into a little bit of detail about Game 7. Specifically the later innings after all the excitement (scoring) was done. I was particularly impressed by Joe Maddon's ability to learn from the gaffes he made in Game 5, and how he applied them in Game 7.
I thought he made a mistake going with Garza in the top of the 8th, having already thrown 100+ pitches, but he was smart enough to pull him after he allowed the first batter to reach base. The first reliever he went to was Dan Wheeler, who we know well from the Game 5 meltdown. I was immediately concerned that he was calling upon Wheeler for 6 outs at this point, much like the debacle from 3 nights before. After Wheeler allowed a base hit and recorded an out, Maddon went to the bullpen for J.P. Howell to face David Ortiz. Bringing in a lefty to face Ortiz was a wise decision as he has struggled against lefties to the tune of a .221/.308/.433 line against them in 2008. Howell did his job and got the second out of the inning via a groundout to second. Next, Maddon brought in mid-season acquisition Chad Bradford to face Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis worked a walk, and Maddon went to his possibly unprecedented 5th pitcher of the inning. This move was a stroke of genious and while he may not have had a ton of options, this was definitely his best one. Maddon brought in David Price, the Rays #1 overall pick of one year ago, to pitch to J.D. Drew, the hero of Game 5. Price started him off with a filthy slider over the outside corner, and didn't appeared to be fazed by the pressure of pitching with a World Series Berth on the line. Price then pumped another slider in for a strike, and all of a sudden he had Drew down in an 0-2 hole. He fired high with a 96 mph fastball, and then missed again evening the count at 2-2. This is when he made a pitch that made me a little weak-kneed (yes, I'm that much of a dork): Price tossed a 97 mph fastball at the knees and just cut the outside edge of the plate. It was a thing of beauty, and Drew didn't have a chance of holding up his swing, though I'm not sure it would have mattered if he did.
As the Rays batted in the bottom of the 8th, the TBS cameras panned over to show a shot of the empty Rays bullpen. Maddon was not warming anyone up despite a righty heavy part of the lineup coming up for the Sox. It was a bold move to leave in a rookie in this type of situation, but David Price was used to facing high pressure situations since he had pitched for Vanderbilt and Team USA. And while those experiences paled in comparison to the one he was in right now, Price was more than up to the challenge. Additionally, people had been talking about Price being this years Joba Chamberlain- and this is exactly how Joe Maddon used him. Except Maddon didn't have a Mariano Rivera in his bullpen, so he let Price take center stage. Price allowed the leadoff man on via the walk, but beared down and recorded the next 3 outs and propelled the Rays into the world series.
The Rays are just a phenomenal story, never having posted even a .500 season before this one, and now appearing in the world series, and much credit should be given to the front office for enduring the losing seasons and making small acquisitions while constantly building for the future. Since the new ownership took over, VP of Operations Andrew Friedman has done a great job making low risk acquisitions with high upside, while using the depth in the minors that they built while finishing under .500 for 10 consecutive seasons. Making trades for Edwin Jackson, Dioner Navarro, Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza, Chad Bradford, Gabe Gross, Dan Wheeler and smart signings such as Carlos Pena, Troy Percival, and Eric Hinske. These are just a few of the pieces that Friedman was able to acquire, mostly without much fanfare, yet all of them played an important part of this 2008 Rays season. I'd also like to point out (and agree with) an article that points out that this Rays team is probably going to be the least talented of the next 5 years. Simply incredible what this team could be in a few years, and on such a low payroll, even with arbitration...