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Sports activities Pulse: The. Rays are going to the International Collection for the primary time since 2008

USA TODAY

SAN DIEGO — The oldsters on Madison Road have no real interest in lining them up for endorsements. The nationwide TV networks have snubbed all of them 12 months.

The Tampa Bay Rays may care much less what any person thinks of them.

All they know is that you just’re about to look a complete lot extra of them in October, on baseball’s greatest degree.

The Rays are shifting on to the International Collection for simplest the second one time in franchise historical past, knocking off the protecting American League champion Houston Astros, Four-2, Saturday evening in Sport 7 of the ALCS.

“We’re a small-market staff,’’ stated Rays middle fielder Kevin Kiermaier, their longest-tenured participant. “We’re now not the most well liked staff in the market. We don’t have too many family names ton of persons are going to grasp.

“However on the identical time, we’ve some really well above-average gamers. We now have a large number of intensity. We know the way unhealthy we’re.

“When you do issues proper, good things can occur.’’

So, pass forward and criticize their taste of play, however the Rays are going to stay profitable the one approach they know the way, taking part in impressive elementary baseball.

They have been up three video games to zero within the sequence, however recovered simply in time to ensure they didn’t sign up for the 2004 New York Yankees as the one groups to blow the lead in a best-of-seven sequence.

“There was once a large number of nervousness,’’ Rays supervisor Kevin Money stated. “I don’t know if I went to mattress. Imagine me, we’ve all watched the ESPN documentary 4 Days in October. I didn’t wish to see it once more. …

“When you watch us play day in and time out, we’ve were given a different team of gamers and personalities who actually experience taking part in the sport, and taking part in the sport with every different.’’

The Rays pose with the American League championship trophy following their victory towards the Astros. (Picture: Gregory Bull, AP)

The Rays don’t have any marquee stars, despite the fact that Randy Arozarena is readily turning into one, hitting his seventh postseason homer in the first inning, and becoming the first rookie position player to win the ALCS MVP.

“He is the best player on the planet,’’ said Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who played in his first game since being hit in the wrist in Game 4. “It’s incredible.’’

And their payroll is the third-lowest lowest in all of baseball at $27.4 million, with the smallest fanbase, playing in an antiquated stadium.

No one will ever confuse them with the ’27 Yankees, the Big Red Machine, or the Atlanta Braves of the 90’s, but, man, can they play baseball.

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“The Rays are a damn good team,’’ Astros pitcher Lance McCullers said. “They’ve been the best team in the American League all season. They went through the Yankees. They went through us.’’

The Rays may be baseball’s poster boys for the analytic world, with their openers, four-man outfields, no traditional closer, and platoon at nearly every position, but they win the old-school way.

Their starters can shut down anyone, as veteran Charlie Morton proved again, winning his major-league record fourth consecutive winner-take-all-game. He shut them out for 5 ⅔ innings, giving up just two hits. He is now 4-0 with a 0.47 ERA in elimination games.

He was only the second pitcher in history to win Game 7 for one team — the Astros in the 2017 World Series — and then facing the same team in another Game 7, joining Roger Clemens who did it with the Boston Red Sox and Yankees.

“He’s unbelievable,’’ said Rays shortstop Willy Adames. “Every time he’s on the mound, we have a lot of confidence in him. We trust him. He’s a true professional.’’

Morton, 37, barely even broke a sweat in this game. He gave up a two-out single to Michael Brantley in the first inning, and retired 14 consecutive batters. Yet, after a walk and an infield single, Cash turned to his vaunted bullpen.

Their bullpen, with a record 13 relievers producing saves, is deep and talented. Nick Anderson, who gave up only five hits the entire season, picked up where Morton left off, pitching two shutout innings. Pete Fairbanks came in with two outs and two runners on in the eighth, and finished them off.

And, oh, how they play defense better than anyone in the game, turning 10 double plays in the ALCS.

When the Rays were eliminated in five games by the Astros a year ago in the AL Division Series, they knew they’d be back to the postseason, with nothing less than a World Series championship in their sights.

“We learned a lot playing five games against Houston,’’ Cash said. “There were things in those experiences and playing in that environment that are led our guys to believe that we can really be right in the thick of things coming into the 2020 season.

“And they really have taken that approach the entire season-long and postseason.’’

Yes, and as painful as it was being eliminated by the Astros, it at least gave them experience playing in winner-take-all games, beating the Yankees in the elimination game in the Division Series, and now the Astros.

Now, with only Los Angeles Dodgers or Atlanta Braves standing in the way of their first World Series, they’ve got a bandwagon of believers.

“We don’t really worry about what people say on the outside,’’ Rays outfielder Austin Meadows said. “We know how good we are. We can compete with anybody.

“The goal was not just getting past the first or second round, but winning it all.

“We have a really good shot.’’

Follow Nightengale on Twitter:@Bnightengale

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