ST. PETERSBURG -- Moments after taking ownership of the William Harridge trophy, Stuart Sternberg cradled the award for winning the American League pennant in his right arm.
The principal owner of the Rays -- wearing a champagne glaze -- smiled despite the obvious weight of the award.
"It's light as a feather," Sternberg said.
Sternberg's team had just advanced to the World Series after winning Game 7 at Tropicana Field on Sunday night, which proved to be a game rich with drama, but none more compelling than the drama of the Rays not wilting with the force of the World Series champion Red Sox bearing down on them.
After losing Games 5 and 6, the Rays appeared headed for the list of teams that had lost commanding series leads to the Red Sox.
"You sit there and expect it to happen [in Game 5]," Sternberg said. "Then tonight, you get a lead in the eighth inning and you're expecting it again. But you have to wait until the last out. You have so much invested in this, this team and organization, that it's almost too overwhelming to explain your emotions."
The final out of Game 7 came when Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura fielded a ground ball and stepped on second base for a forceout.
"I felt nervous until the end," Sternberg said. "Then Aki caught it. Then we won. Wow! How about that? I wasn't even sure how to act for a second there."
Once he could breathe again, Sternberg could appreciate the fact the series went to a deciding Game 7.
"The things that are the most important always take the longest road to get there," Sternberg said. "And we always take the long road."
When Sternberg took control of the team in October 2005, it appeared that long road might never be traveled. Initially, the Rays were said to be "under construction," and they continued to be under construction on the field as the Rays suffered losing campaigns from 2005 through 2007. Now that project seems complete. Well, almost complete.
Last place to the Fall Classic
The Rays are the sixth team to go from last place to the World Series in consecutive seasons.
Facing Phillies starting Wed.
Lost to Red Sox, 4-0
Lost to Yankees, 4-0
Lost to Blue Jays, 4-2
Beat Braves, 4-3
Lost to Twins, 4-3
"We'll have a banner that says 'American League East champions' and we'll have another banner that says 'American League champions,' " Sternberg said. "[But] we're not through yet. We want that other banner."
Andrew Friedman, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations, agreed with Sternberg that winning Game 7 was better because of the highs and lows of reaching that point. He complimented the team on how well it handled adversity and being counted out throughout the 2008 season.
"All year long, we've responded when people counted us out," Friedman said. "It seems like we want that chip on our shoulder."
Team president Matt Silverman said the team is in unchartered waters for what it has accomplished this season.
"From last place, and a history of last place, to a number of achievements, the postseason, and now the World Series ..." Silverman said. "It is a testament to the players, the coaches and the entire organization."
Sternberg complimented the entire organization for its part in the team's accomplishment, noting it is ahead of schedule.
"It's really been a work of conviction, great effort and perseverance," Sternberg said. "Everybody in the organization has a stake in what was accomplished."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.