ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP)—Ryan Howard reached into the stands, stuck his glove into a cluster of fans and caught a foul pop for a key out. Yes, Tropicana Field was filled with World Series rookies on and off the field.
The glamorous teams all eliminated, the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays opened a most unexpected World Series on Wednesday night. Cole Hamels escaped trouble to win his fourth postseason start, Chase Utley hit a two-run homer in the first inning and the Phillies beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2.
While the City of Brotherly Love celebrated, the worst-to-first Rays might as well have been plopped into the fish tank in right-center, flopping in their first game in baseball’s ultimate event. They managed just five hits—none after the fifth inning.
“If you want to take the wind out of the sails,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said, “you shut the cowbells up and get some home runs. That will do it — except in Citizens Bank Park. If you hit enough there, they ring a bell. They ring the Liberty Bell.”
Both teams have a history of losing—the Phillies long-term and the Rays in the short run. But while the Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, Yankees, etc., are gone, these teams filled with young, hungry players have made it to the top.
Philadelphia will try to make it two in a row at Tropicana Field when Brett Myers pitches against James Shields in Game 2 Thursday night. The team that won the opener has captured the Series 63 of 103 times, including 10 of the last 11. But the team with home-field advantage has taken 18 of the last 22 titles.
“It’s huge,” Phillies closer Brad Lidge said. “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.”
It seems the rust vs. rest debate as been around almost since, well, the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Philadelphia had six days to reflect and relax after winning the National League pennant. The Rays had two days to recover after beating Boston in Game 7 for the AL title on Sunday night.
“I don’t think it threw off our timing too much,” Utley said of the layoff. “I think tomorrow we should definitely be more back on track.”
Hamels, MVP of the NL championship series, improved to 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA this postseason. He had only a pair of 1-2-3 innings, but the composed 24-year-old left-hander allowed two runs and five hits in seven innings.
He made the extra rest sound as if it was a few extra days in bed.
“For a starter it’s almost better sometimes,” Hamels said, “just because it gives you more time to heal up.”
Ryan Madson pitched a perfect eighth. Lidge worked the ninth for his 47th save in 47 chances this year, silencing the Rays and their cowbell-clanging fans.
While Carl Crawford homered, playoff stars B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena went a combined 0-for-12, striking out five times and hitting into two double plays. Akinori Iwamura had three of his team’s five hits.
Scott Kazmir, selected two picks ahead of Hamels in the first round of the 2002 amateur draft, struggled with his control and gave up three runs, six hits and four walks in six innings.
“It wasn’t an easy night, and I felt like I had to battle every single inning,” Kazmir said.
Philadelphia could have romped but went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 runners. Their other run even scored on an out, an RBI grounder by Carlos Ruiz.
“It’s better to come up empty with a lot of guys in scoring position than not have any at all,” Utley said.
Seeking the city’s first major title since the NBA’s 76ers in 1983, Philadelphia had six days off after beating the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL pennant, while the Rays didn’t finish off the Boston Red Sox until Game 7 on Sunday night.
Jayson Werth walked with one out in the first and Utley, after fouling off a bunt attempt, homered on a 2-2 pitch, sending the ball into the right-field seats and becoming the 34th player to homer in his first Series at-bat.
Only 13 of Utley’s 33 homers during the regular season were against lefties, and Kazmir allowed just one homer to a left-handed batter in 131 at-bats, with Boston’s David Ortiz connecting Sept. 15.
“Fastball, middle of the plate,” Utley said. “I was just trying to put the ball into play.”
Philadelphia had a chance to pad the lead in the second following two walks, but Upton made a nifty one-hop throw to the plate on Jimmy Rollins’ fly to short center, and catcher Dioner Navarro applied the tag on Shane Victorino for the inning-ending out.
Tampa Bay loaded the bases with one out in the third on two singles around a walk. Then third baseman Pedro Feliz went to his left for an impressive pickup on Upton’s grounder and started an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
“Definitely the kind of momentum swing into our favor,” Hamels said. “If they can load the bases with less than two outs and not be able to score, then you definitely have the upper hand.”
Ruiz hit an RBI grounder in the fourth following Victorino’s leadoff single, but Crawford’s homer on a hanging breaking ball cut the lead to a 3-1 in the bottom half.
Iwamura had an opposite-field RBI double to left-center in the fifth, and Upton followed the foul pop that Howard came up with. Had this been at Fenway Park, the glove likely would have been at the Cask N Flagon by the final out.
“Ryan’s pretty big,” Rollins said. “Usually if you see him coming toward you, you get out of the way.”
Pena reached leading off the sixth when Howard allowed his grounder to pop off his glove and midsection for an error. But Hamels froze Pena with a pickoff throw and he was easily thrown out at second. Rays manager Joe Maddon screamed unsuccessfully for a balk call, maintaining Hamels’ foot landed too far toward the plate.
“I thought it was clearly a balk, and obviously you can’t argue a balk,” Maddon said. “You get kicked out arguing a balk. What I did was even inappropriate.”
Said Hamels: “Yeah, he was out. That’s all I can say. “
It was the first Series game on artificial turf since 1993—the Phillies’ previous one. … The only other pitchers with four wins in four postseason starts were Dave Stewart (1989), David Wells (1998) and Josh Beckett (2007).