Every baseball fan outside of Houston is thankful for the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Astros representing the American League in the World Series, in the same year the sign stealing scandal broke, and in the season they finished with a losing record, would have been the worst possible outcome for non-Houston fans. It would have shone a yet brighter light on the punishments (or lack thereof) given to the ‘Stros players.
The man who pitched the Astros to their World Series ring in 2017 led the Rays to the Fall Classic on Saturday. Charlie Morton, a pitcher with a Hollywood career arc, hurled his most important game since Game 7 three seasons ago.
Morton has established a postseason legend, a resume rivalled only by Madison Bumgarner and Justin Verlander among active pitchers. This was his fourth win in a winner-takes-all playoff game, and it must have been particularly sweet coming against his former team.
It might sound twee, but the Rays represent so much of what is good about baseball. It was easy to paint this as good versus bad. Tampa Bay are the underdogs who think outside the box, who find productive players from nowhere. Houston are the dominant force in the American League in recent years, the team trying to re-assert their dominance despite a subpar regular season. Did any neutral want the Astros to win?
There will never be quantifiable punishment for Alex Bregman or Jose Altuve. The black mark on their careers will remain in the minds of millions forever, of course, and those still furious at them can take some pleasure in seeing them get so close to the World Series only for it to be snatched away by 2020’s best team, a team of hard-throwers and dinger hitters.
The Rays might not spend big, their roster might not be littered with stars, but they are an organisation that continues to exceed expectations, a franchise that is changing the game for the better, that sticks to their approach even in Game 7 with a World Series berth on the line.
Sport is better for variety. Tampa Bay are different and they embrace it. There are so many reasons to like the Rays – their popularity will soar further with Saturday’s Game 7 win.
Is it too grand to say that win saved the 2020 MLB season?