Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Tampa vs. Chicago in the Postseason

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks begin the 2015 Stanley Cup Final tonight. Both teams won a Game Seven on the road in the previous round, and it was the third time in NHL history that both Semifinals/Conference Finals went seven.

1964: Maple Leafs d. Canadiens in Montreal, Red Wings d. Black Hawks in Chicago
2000: Devils d. Flyers in Philadelphia, Stars d. Avalanche at home
2015: Lightning d. Rangers in New York, Blackhawks d. Ducks in Anaheim

Of the seven times in NHL/NBA/MLB history that both Semifinals/Conference Finals/LCS went to seven games, only the 1964 and 2015 pairings above had both road teams win.

In the four major professional sports, this is the second time that teams from Tampa and Chicago are facing off in the postseason. Let's take a look at the 2008 ALDS between the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago White Sox:

2008 ALDS

After averaging over 97 losses during their first ten seasons of existence, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays shortened their name to the Rays and changed their uniforms prior to the 2008 season.

What followed was one of the greatest one-year turnarounds in baseball history, answering a 66-96 campaign in 2007 with a 97-65 record and American League East title over the powerhouse Red Sox and Yankees.

The White Sox battled the Twins for the Central crown down the stretch, beating Cleveland on the final day of the regular season to pull within a half-game of Minnesota. That required playing a makeup game against Detroit, and they won that one too, tying the Twins at 88-74 to force a one-game playoff in Chicago.

John Danks and Nick Blackburn had a terrific pitching duel that was scoreless until Jim Thome led off the bottom of the seventh inning with a home run. Danks made it stand up with eight shutout innings of two-hit ball before Bobby Jenks closed out the 1-0 division clincher.

The ALDS opened in St. Petersburg as the Rays hosted the first postseason game in franchise history. A.L. Rookie of the Year Evan Longoria got them started in the second inning with a homer off Javier Vazquez. Dewayne Wise answered for Chicago with a three-run homer against James Shields, but the Rays came back with three of their own, taking the lead for good on Longoria's second long ball. Shields held the ChiSox at bay into the seventh, but they loaded the bases with one out trailing 6-3. Grant Balfour came in and struck out Juan Uribe and Orlando Hudson to escape trouble. Paul Konerko homered in the ninth, but that would be as close as Chicago would get in Tampa Bay's 6-4 victory.

In the top of the first inning of Game Two, Thome and Alexei Ramirez drove in runs for Chicago against Scott Kazmir. Dioner Navarro put the Rays on the board with a run-scoring single off Mark Buehrle, but both pitchers settled in after the second. It was still 2-1 in the fifth when Akinori Iwamura took Buehrle deep to put Tampa Bay in front 3-2. Kazmir, Balfour and J.P. Howell kept it at that score, and after three insurance runs in their last at bat, Chad Bradford pitched a scoreless ninth for a 6-2 Rays win and 2-0 series lead.

Back at home, the White Sox turned to the Game 163 hero as Danks outpitched Matt Garza in Game Three. Chicago answered a quick 1-0 deficit with a run in the third inning, three in the fourth and one in the sixth. B.J. Upton (Melvin) hit a two-run homer in the seventh to make it 5-3, but relievers Octavio Dotel, Matt Thornton and Jenks kept Tampa Bay off the board to stay alive.

In another bid to close out the series, Upton homered as the second batter of Game Four, giving the Rays a very early 1-0 advantage. He added another solo shot in the third, and an inning later, Cliff Floyd and Navarro drove in runs to knock out starter Gavin Floyd. Konerko and Jermaine Dye homered for the White Sox, but Andy Sonnanstine and the Rays were in control all the way, winning 6-2 to clinch the series three games to one. The pitching line for Tampa Bay's relievers in the series: 11.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 13 K.

The Rays moved on to the ALCS to face the team they edged for the division title, the defending champion Red Sox. Tampa Bay raced out to a 3-1 series lead and led Game Five 7-0 in the seventh inning, but Boston charged back to win 8-7. The Sox won again to force a seventh game, but Garza outdueled Jon Lester before September call-up David Price nailed down the last four outs to win the pennant for Tampa Bay.


The Cinderella run ended in the World Series. They dropped three one-run games as the Phillies took the Fall Classic 4-1. Still, manager Joe Maddon and GM Andrew Friedman had started something, with the low-payroll Rays averaging 92 wins over a six-year span with four playoff appearances.

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