With one win, the Phillies gained home-field advantage in the World Series. With one more victory, they’ll head back to Philadelphia halfway toward the city’s first championship in 25 years.
In arguably one of the better individual rags-to-riches stories recently, Brett Myers will try to give the Phillies a commanding edge as they meet the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 2 on Thursday night at the Tropicana Field.
Behind Chase Utley, Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge, Philadelphia showed virtually no rust after a six-day layoff following its pennant-clinching win over the Los Angeles Dodgers and posted a 3-2 win in Game 1 on Wednesday.
Utley hit a two-run homer in the first inning off Scott Kazmir to stake Philadelphia to an early lead. The three-time All-Star second baseman, who had a career-high 33 homers in the regular season, became the 34th player to go deep in his first Series at-bat.
Hamels, the NL championship series MVP, improved to 4-0 in the postseason with seven sharp innings, allowing two runs and five hits with two walks and five strikeouts. Including the postseason, Lidge converted his 47th straight save opportunity by striking out two in a perfect ninth.
“It’s huge,” Lidge said of grabbing the early Series lead. “You try and downplay it, but obviously you’re coming into a place like this, you want to make sure you get the first game, especially because you got your ace on the mound. It’s really important to do that.”
The team that won the opener has captured 10 of the last 11 Series, and Philadelphia has been in this position before - in 1980, the Phillies defeated Kansas City 7-6 in Game 1 and went on to capture the franchise’s only championship.
The City of Brotherly Love has not hosted a championship parade since 1983, when the NBA’s 76ers completed a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Though Tampa Bay had the best home record in the majors during the regular season (57-24), it had no answer for Hamels. Akinori Iwamura had three of the Rays’ five hits and Carl Crawford homered, but budding stars B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria were held in check.
After combining for 13 of Tampa Bay’s 23 postseason homers, they went 0-for-8 with four strikeouts in Game 1.
“I don’t feel we were trying too hard,” Longoria said of Upton and himself. “Good pitching is going to beat good hitting every time. That’s all there is to it.”
While that adage may be true, starting a World Series game was probably the furthest thing from Myers’ mind on July 1 when he was sent to the minors to try and shake a season-long slump. The Phillies’ opening-day starter pitched twice for Triple-A Lehigh Valley and once for Double-A Reading, going 1-3 with a 3.00 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 27 innings.
The slump Myers (10-13, 4.65 ERA) battled this year was most evident on the road. In his first 10 outings away from Philadelphia, he was 0-6 with a 7.91 ERA.
“I knew that I needed to go down and take responsibility for how I was pitching. I needed to get it right. In order for me to be successful I needed to figure things out and I did,” said Myers, who has never faced Tampa Bay. “And it was good for me and I think for the team, because I was able to come back with some confidence and be able to pitch in bigger games, and kind of got the feel back for starting pitching again.”
Beginning with a victory at Washington on July 29, Myers went 3-2 with a 3.92 ERA the rest of the way on the road. His numbers would have been better had he not allowed a career-high 10 runs in four-plus innings on Sept. 19 in a loss to Florida, his most recent road start.
On Oct. 2, the right-hander gave Philadelphia a 2-0 lead over Milwaukee in the NL division series by allowing two runs and seven hits over seven innings of a 5-2 victory. Though he didn’t pitch particularly well in Game 2 of the NLCS, Myers beat the Dodgers 8-5 on Oct. 10.
He tossed 102 pitches over five innings, and allowed five runs and six hits with four walks and six strikeouts. Myers did help his own cause with three run-scoring singles.
In spite of the inconsistency, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has been pleased with what he’s seen from Myers.
“He’s been tremendous,” Manuel said. “And he’s been just a completely different pitcher. He had a couple of games after he come back that he was a little rocky. But at the same time he’s made some good adjustments and he’s been throwing the ball much better. His command has been better, and his attitude has definitely picked up and been better. He’s more in control of himself.”
After losing both of his starts to Boston in the AL championship series, James Shields (14-8, 3.56) will try to even the series and keep the Rays from being in a difficult position. Only 11 teams have come back from an 0-2 deficit to the win the World Series, the last being the New York Yankees against Atlanta in 1996.
“It’s never easy when you’re down 0-1,” Shields said. “But I think we’ve been pretty resilient all year long.”
Shields got the start in the opener of ALCS play on Oct. 11, and was outpitched by Daisuke Matsuzaka in a 2-0 loss. The Rays right-hander lasted 7 1-3 innings, and allowed two runs and six hits with two walks and six strikeouts.
After Tampa Bay squandered a late seven-run lead in an 8-7 loss in Game 5, Shields tried to deliver Tampa Bay’s first pennant in Game 6 on Saturday, but failed to get out of the sixth inning. He was tagged for four runs and nine hits - including two homers - with three walks and three strikeouts over 5 2-3 innings of a 4-2 loss.
Shields hasn’t lost three consecutive starts since dropping four in a row from June 15-July 1, 2007. His only career start against the Phillies came in June 2006, when he allowed three runs and six hits over six innings of a 10-4 victory in Philadelphia.
“I know that squad is a pretty good hitting squad, they’ve been known to hit the long ball,” Shields said of this year’s Phillies team. “But what I see is not only do they hit the long ball, they can run the bases and play small ball, as well. I consider their team more similar to our team, more than any other team in the playoffs.”
The series will shift to Citizens Bank Park for Game 3 on Saturday.