A long championship drought is about to end

October 19th, 2020

And then there were two.

When the Rays clinched the American League pennant with a 4-2 victory over the Astros in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series on Saturday night, they advanced to the World Series for the second time in franchise history. They'll face the Dodgers, who beat the Braves, 4-3, in Game 7 of the NL Championship Series on Sunday night, earning a trip to the Fall Classic for the third time in the past four years.

Tampa Bay’s victory guaranteed that a long World Series championship drought will be broken in 2020. The Astros won it all three years ago, but now that Houston is out, the team celebrating at the end of this unprecedented postseason will be doing so for the first time in a long time.

Here’s a look at the World Series title droughts for the Rays and Dodgers.

Last title: 1988
Close call: 2017, ’18

It’s been World Series title or bust for the Dodgers for the past three years, ever since they lost in seven games to the Astros in 2017. But while Los Angeles reached the Fall Classic again in ’18, a loss to Boston and a shocking early exit from the postseason last year has it still seeking its first championship in more than three decades.

The last time the Dodgers won it all, they defeated a heavily favored A’s team led by Bash Brothers Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. Oakland’s lineup was the most formidable in baseball, and Los Angeles’ was the opposite. It also didn’t help matters that the Dodgers were without their best hitter to open the Series, Kirk Gibson, who was sidelined by two injured knees.

But with the Dodgers trailing, 4-3, in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 1, Gibson surprisingly hobbled to the plate as a pinch-hitter with one on and two out against the game’s premier closer, Dennis Eckersley. The rest, as they say, is history -- Gibson hit one of the most improbable home runs in baseball history, lifting Los Angeles to a stunning 5-4 win. The Dodgers won it all five days later behind a brilliant performance from World Series MVP Orel Hershiser.

Last title: Never
Close call: 2008

The only time the Rays reached the World Series prior to 2020, current manager Kevin Cash was a catcher for the Red Sox, and current Twins manager Rocco Baldelli was an outfielder on Tampa Bay’s roster. The former face of the Rays' franchise, third baseman Evan Longoria, was a 22-year-old rookie.

Longoria launched six homers that postseason for Tampa Bay, including four in a seven-game ALCS against Cash's Red Sox. Game 7 was a nail-biter, and Rays manager Joe Maddon summoned rookie left-hander David Price, who had only made five career appearances to that point, from the bullpen with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning. With the Rays leading, 3-1, Price struck out J.D. Drew to escape the jam. He then worked around a walk in the ninth to pick up the pennant-clinching save.

Just as they have been for their entire history, the Rays were underdogs in the World Series against a Phillies club led by slugger Ryan Howard and 24-year-old left-hander Cole Hamels. And though Tampa Bay lost the Series in five games, three of the four losses were by one run. The Rays’ lone win came in Game 2 at Tropicana Field, when right-hander James Shields threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings in a 4-2 victory.

Overall, the Rays hit .212 against strong Phillies pitching. Carl Crawford hit two of the Rays’ four home runs in the Series, and after an AL Rookie of the Year Award campaign in the regular season and strong postseason to that point, Longoria went 1-for-20 in the Fall Classic.

Following that World Series loss, the Rays reached the postseason four times from 2009-19, losing in the AL Division Series each time.