Maddon stayed with Price in the ninth, even after he walked the leadoff batter, and Price rewarded the manager's faith by retiring three straight hitters to send Tampa Bay to the World Series. "That," Price said, "was an awesome feeling. You can't put that feeling into words."
Unwrapping Price, with his 97-mph fastball and wicked 87-mph slider, this late in the year is a reminder that the Rays are not a one-shot wonder. They already have the youngest postseason rotation since the 1986 Mets. (James Shields, at 26, is its elder.) "They answered the very big challenge that a Game 7 presents," said Boston general manager Theo Epstein. "It's been obvious for some time that this team is not some fluke. That was apparent early in the season. Now this is a major breakthrough for them. They've put together a core of young talent that very few clubs can match, though we'd like to think we have the same foundation. Everybody in our league knows they're not going away."
"Tonight they're even a much better team than they were," said Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell, "because now they know they can do it."
Maddon had talked about the ALCS as a "growth opportunity" for his young team, regardless of the outcome. Having knocked off the defending world champions, he was asked to reassess that opportunity. Said Maddon, "It's about everyone in the organization, from the secretaries to the scouts, being a part of this, of redefining what it means to be a Ray. That's the most gratifying part of it."
He was sure, he said, that this redefining of the franchise would last beyond this one pennant, a thought that made him turn to paraphrasing Holmes. "A mind once stretched," Maddon said, "has a difficult time going back to its original form."
The way Tampa Bay is playing ball these days, the notion no longer sounds so outrageous. Shout it from the highest catwalk: The Rays are in the World Series.