Perhaps a return to their hitter-friendly park will help awaken the Philadelphia Phillies’ slumbering bats.
Garza is slated to take the mound Saturday night, when the Rays and Phillies try to dodge the raindrops at Citizens Bank Park in Game 3 of the World Series.
This series shifts to Philadelphia tied at one game apiece after the Rays recovered from a 3-2 loss in Game 1 to beat the Phillies 4-2 on Thursday night at Tropicana Field. The Phillies reached Tampa Bay starter James Shields for seven hits and two walks over 5 2-3 innings, but failed to score against him. They stranded 11 men on base and went 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position, falling to 1-for-28 for the series in RBI situations.
“I’m concerned about us hitting with guys on base, because it looks like at times we might be trying a little too hard. But we can fix that,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
Regardless of whether they fix that problem, playing at home usually aids the Phillies. They went 48-33 there during the regular season, and have won all four of their postseason games at Citizens Bank Park, which nicely complements their home run-reliant offense.
Homers accounted for 42.7 percent of Philadelphia’s runs during the regular season - the third-highest percentage in the majors. The Phillies hit 109 of the 189 home runs in Citizens Bank Park, with the 189 figure third-most among NL parks.
For that home-field advantage to matter, Philadelphia’s top hitters will need to recapture their strokes. Slugger Ryan Howard is 2-for-9 with four strikeouts in the World Series, while Pat Burrell is 0-for-6. Leadoff man Jimmy Rollins has had the worst time of all, going 0-for-10 in the first two games after batting .143 (3-for-21) in the NLCS against Los Angeles.
“The only thing I can see is Jimmy is swinging hard,” Manuel said. “That comes from trying too hard.”
Without their shortstop on base, the Phillies suffer. They went 42-15 in the regular season when Rollins scored a run, and 50-55 when he didn’t.
“It’s that way sometimes,” Rollins said. “Sometimes you’re seeing the ball good and sometimes you hit it hard right at somebody.”
Few balls were hit hard against Garza (2-1, 3.32 ERA) in the ALCS. The 24-year-old right-hander became the youngest MVP in the history of that series by limiting Boston’s vaunted lineup to two runs and eight hits over 14 innings to win both of his starts. He outpitched Jon Lester in Sunday’s Game 7, yielding one run, two hits and three walks in seven innings while striking out nine.
As he shines on October’s big stage after working with a sports psychologist to control his emotions, Garza is proving cool under pressure.
“I just tell myself, ‘I’ve got to go one pitch at a time,’” he said. “Not look ahead. Not even look back at any pitch I’ve thrown. Once a pitch is gone, it’s over. I can’t control what happens after that.”
The youthful Garza will be opposed by a pitcher old enough to be his father. Jamie Moyer (0-2, 13.50) has waited 45 years - 22 of them spent in the major leagues - to make his World Series debut, but he may need to wait one more day.
The National Weather Service is forecasting a 90 percent chance of rain for Saturday, raising the possibility of the first World Series rainout since Game 4 of the 2006 series between St. Louis and Detroit. Neither manager has revealed plans for his pitching rotation in the event of a postponement.
The Phillies lost only twice in the first two rounds of this postseason, with both those defeats charged to Moyer. The left-hander got hit hard Oct. 12 in Game 3 of the NLCS at Los Angeles, yielding six runs and six hits in 1 1-3 innings of a 7-2 defeat.
Moyer is 8-4 with a 2.85 ERA in 15 career starts versus the Rays, but has not faced them since 2006. Tampa Bay first baseman Carlos Pena is 10-for-20 (.500) with two homers and three doubles against Moyer, while left fielder Carl Crawford is 9-for-19 (.474).
Like the Phillies, though, Tampa Bay’s key hitters have begun the Fall Classic in a funk. Pena is 0-for-7 through the first two games, Crawford is 1-for-8 with the Rays’ only home run, and slugging third baseman Evan Longoria is 0-for-8 with four strikeouts after homering four times in the ALCS.
Center fielder B.J. Upton, who also hit four homers in that series, continues to be the Rays’ biggest offensive force in October. Upton, 24, singled in his first two at-bats of Game 2 and drove in a run. The RBI was his 16th of the postseason, pulling him within three of the major league record shared by David Ortiz (2004), Scott Spiezio (2002) and Sandy Alomar (1997).
“He’s got a lot of confidence and he’s using it to his strength,” said Tampa Bay’s Cliff Floyd, who referred to Upton as the “backbone of this team right now.”
“He’s told himself, I’m going to put everything aside - the shoulder, the quad - and go out there and give myself an opportunity to help this team. I tip my hat to him because without him you don’t know where this team would be.”