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10/20/08 7:04 PM ET

Not a dream: Rays reflect on WS reality

Blissfully fatigued players, staff let magnitude of feat sink in

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Matt Garza awoke on the morning after, a ringing cell phone still cradled in his hand. It was a thrilling evening back at Tropicana Field, one that pushed the American League Championship Series MVP to the point of exhaustion.

With daylight came the realization that it hadn't, as David Price wondered, all been just a delirious dream. A quick scan of the television stations and late-edition newspapers confirmed the reality -- the Tampa Bay Rays could call themselves the American League champions.

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Asked what he remembered of the wild celebration that followed the final out of Tampa Bay's 3-1 victory in Game 7, Garza grinned, recalling how wonderfully cold the first bottle of champagne that splashed him really was.

"I'll tell you what -- my body temperature was hot, and then they poured it on me, and it felt like someone hit me with a bunch of razor blades," Garza said. "It was amazing. You just can't put it into words, how amazing it was to see it all finally come down and play out, and now we're playing for a world championship."

Price, who recorded the final four outs to log a postseason save -- he notched his first Major League win and save in the playoffs before doing so in the regular season -- said he went home after the Rays whooped it up at the Trop, celebrating in quieter fashion.

Whipping the controller of his Nintendo Wii around with his nephew, Price steered Super Mario Karts around a virtual track, just hours after he induced Boston's Jed Lowrie to ground into a fielder's choice to end the ninth inning of a classic American League Championship Series.

"I got four hours of sleep and that was more than enough," said Price, an instant celebrity who woke early to introduce Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama at a rally held in Tampa.

Asked for his favorite memory of the Rays' celebration, Price responded, "Seeing all these veterans that have been playing for seven, eight, nine years and have not ever been on a playoff team. Seeing those guys and how happy they were, and how much they deserve this -- a lot more than I do. That's what's really awesome about this."

Rays reliever Grant Balfour recalled running in from the bullpen and, on slow legs, arriving too late to be pummeled at the bottom of the pile. So, from the outskirts of the crush, Balfour spotted fellow bullpen mate J.P. Howell and tried to pull players off of the left-hander, thinking, "Geez, we need this guy! Get him out of there!"

"It's an unbelievable feeling," Balfour said. "You knew it wasn't over until it was over, and I kept reminding myself of that. It was one of those things where that last out was made and you heard the crowd go crazy.

"It's awesome for the whole community to have something to cheer about. I was here last year for half the season and you'd get fans telling you, 'Oh, you're in last place.' Now, to look at them, you can keep your head up high and be very proud of yourself."

Rays general manager Andrew Friedman said the moment that sticks out for him was, standing on a stage in short-center field, catching the eye of longtime traveling secretary Jeff Ziegler.

"He was weeping," Friedman said. "It was moving, because he's been here for a long time. It just kind of reminded all of us of the people who have been here for a long time and what they've gone through, and the elation that they're experiencing with this moment."

Friedman shed no tears, but called his reaction "hard to describe."

"I was trying to take it all in," Friedman said. "I've gotten a lot of advice from different general managers to try to enjoy this as much as you can. It's easy to say and harder to do. I find myself fighting myself and trying to do that. It's much easier to say than to do."

After returning home after 3 a.m., Garza went straight to bed, speaking on the phone with his agent and fiancée until the calls started coming in with daybreak. The first video highlights he saw of his victory came when Garza reported to Tropicana Field for media availability.

"I was tired. I didn't watch anything," Garza said. "The first things I've seen were when I got in here. I've been exhausted on the phone all morning."

With Garza's bleary-eyed Monday came a new sequence of events to prepare the ALCS MVP for his Game 3 start, which would take place at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

Garza worked out, rode a bike, lifted, ran and threw, perhaps replaying the moments of tension between when second baseman Akinori Iwamura fielded Lowrie's ninth-inning grounder and the Rays were minted as AL champs.

"Just get an out," Garza said. "You see a lot of times when you get a lot of excitement going and you forget what you're doing. Aki got the ball and looked at [Jason] Bartlett, and I'm just [thinking], 'Tag the base!' He ran to second and cleared it, and it was awesome."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.