The Washington Times - October 20, 2008, 01:35AM

By JAY LeBLANC
October 20, 2008

Rays 4, Red Sox 2
Rays win series 4-3

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Rookie phenom David Price preserved a 4-2 Rays lead by fanning the red hot J.D. Drew with the bases loaded in the top of the eighth and slammed the door shut on the Red Sox’ season in the ninth as Tampa Bay edged the defending World Champs last night in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. ALCS MVP Matt Garza earned the win by allowing one earned run on just two hits while fanning nine in seven stellar innings of work for the Rays, who will host the Philadelphia Phillies Wednesday night in Game 1 of the 2008 World Series just a year after finishing with the worst record in all of baseball.

Dustin Pedroia gave the Red Sox a 1-0 lead in the top of the first with a one-out solo shot to left off Rays starter Matt Garza. The score remained the same until the bottom of the fourth. Akinori Iwamura opened the frame with a single off Red Sox starter Jon Lester, who then fanned B.J. Upton for the first out. Iwamura was forced out at second on a Carlos Pena fielder’s choice, leaving a runner on second with two outs for Evan Longoria. The All-Star rookie delivered, stroking a double to right to drive Pena home with the tying run.

The Rays claimed the lead in the bottom of the fifth. Willy Aybar led off with a double to left and Dioner Navarro followed with an infield single, putting runners on first and second with no outs. The next hitter, Rocco Baldelli, stroked a single to left that scored Aybar to put the Rays up 2-1, with Navarro advancing to second on the play. Lester then fanned Jason Bartlett for the inning’s first out. The next Rays batter, Iwamura, grounded out to pitcher, putting runners on second and third with two down for Upton. The Red Sox escaped without further damage when the dangerous Upton lined out to shortstop.

After Willy Aybar put the Rays up 3-1 with a leadoff homer off Lester in the bottom of the seventh, the Red Sox appeared primed for a rally in the eighth. Alex Cora reached on an error by Rays shortstop Bartlett to open the eighth, ending Garza’s night after seven-plus outstanding innings. Coco Crisp greeted Rays righty Dan Wheeler with a single to right to put runners on first and second, but Wheeler then got Pedroia to fly to left for the first out. David Ortiz followed with a fielder’s choice to put runners on first and third with two outs for Kevin Youkilis. Submariner Chad Bradford came on to pitch to Youkilis and walked him to load the bases with two outs for J.D. Drew. Rays manager Joe Maddon summoned Price from the bullpen, and the 2007 No. 1 overall pick responded by fanning Drew on four pitches to preserve Tampa Bay’s two-run advantage.

Hideki Okajima retired the Rays in order in the bottom of the eighth, and Maddon stuck with Price for the Boston ninth. Jason Bay led off with a walk, giving the Red Sox hope for another late-inning rally. He’d never advance any further, however, as Price fanned Mark Kotsay and Varitek and then got pinch-hitter Jed Lowrie to ground into a fielder’s choice to extend the Rays’ storybook season with a trip to the World Series.

I’d tell you more about the Rays’ celebration, but as a lifelong Red Sox fan, I couldn’t bear to watch.

The 2008 World Series will kick off Wednesday night at Tropicana Field, as the American League once again topped the Senior Circuit in the All-Star Game. Ironically, Rays starter Scott Kazmir got the win in this year’s Midsummer Classic at Yankee Stadium, while the Phillies’ Brad Lidge was the losing pitcher. With two star-studded but very different ballclubs, this year’s Fall Classic should be one to remember.

Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and mayor of the National Pastime web community. He can be reached at jleblanc@washingtontimes.com.

Photo by The Associated Press