Originally published on October 23, 2008
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - There is aggression in baseball, but it is controlled aggression, the type that isn't necessarily conducive to hair-raising motivational speeches. So when Charlie Manuel addressed his team in the wake of its NLCS victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers, he did not yell or scream or eat a pound of nails. He just talked. About the challenges they would face while preparing for the Rays. About the various distractions that would arise.
"Don't ever forget," he said yesterday, recalling the conversation, "that the game is the most important thing.''
Last night, in the first World Series game the Phillies had played in 15 years, they heeded that advice, walking into a hostile environment against a blistering team and emerging with a 3-2 victory in the all-important first game of the series.
The names of the stars were familiar - Chase Utley hit a two-run home run in the first inning, Cole Hamels earned the win, Brad Lidge recorded the save - but the result was something the city of Philadelphia hadn't seen in a decade-and-a-half: a win in a World Series game.
"Our goal was to try to score some runs early,'' said Utley, whose blast in the first inning gave the Phillies a 2-0 lead. "[We were] trying to take the crowd out of it, because they are intense, they are loud. And I thought we did a good job.''
Although no one clad in Phillies red explicitly stated it in the days leading up to the start of the series, a victory in Game 1 was of monumental importance. On paper, it was the one game of the series where they had a decided edge in the pitching matchup, with Hamels squaring off against talented yet erratic lefthander Scott Kazmir.
The 24-year-old Kazmir, who went 12-8 with a 3.49 ERA during the regular season and was coming off six shutout innings against the Red Sox - is one of the better young pitchers in the game. But he rarely works deep into games - he entered last night having thrown fewer than six innings in two of his three postseason starts and had not pitched seven or more innings in an outing since July 21 - and the Phillies wanted to make sure he did not against them.
They accomplished that goal, drawing four walks and forcing Kazmir to throw 110 pitches in six innings.
After Jayson Werth drew a one-out walk in the top of the first inning, Utley parked a 2-2 fastball in the seats in right-centerfield for a two-run homer.
But they squandered several opportunities to knock him out of the game even earlier, including one in the second inning. With the bases loaded and one out, Jimmy Rollins hit a weak fly ball to centerfielder B.J. Upton, who then gunned down Shane Victorino at the plate to end the frame.
The Phillies put runners on base in every inning against Kazmir, adding a run in the fourth on a groundout by Carlos Ruiz that scored Victorino from third. But they went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position against him, failing to register a knock-out punch.
Overall, the Phillies were 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
"Really, it was an important game,'' said Lidge, who struck out two of the three batters he faced in the ninth to record his sixth save of the postseason. "When your ace is on the mound, you need to win.''
Hamels made sure they did. The ace lefthander entered the game having allowed just three runs in 22 postseason innings. The NLCS MVP had allowed just 13 hits in his three starts, striking out 22 while walking six.
He wasn't as dominant against the Rays - at least not as he has come to define the word - but he never seemed in danger of giving up the lead to which he was staked.
Each time the Rays threatened he kept his composure and delivered a pitch that emancipated him from the jam. The biggest instance came in the third inning, when he got B.J. Upton to ground into an inning-ending doubleplay with the bases loaded.
Hamels' only significant mistake came with two outs in the fourth inning, when Carl Crawford drilled a first-pitch curveball for a home run that cut the Rays' deficit to 3-1. But he finished strong, retiring the last five batters he faced before leaving after the seventh with two runs and five hits allowed.
"He controlled the game,'' pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "He had a nice pickoff at first base and did just about everything right.''
In the days leading up to last night's game, there was a lot of talk about the Phillies' 6-day layoff in between their NLCS-clinching win over the Dodgers and the start of the World Series. The past 2 years, similar layoffs were blamed for the sluggishness displayed by the Tigers and the Rockies in their respective series losses. The word "rust'' was used so many times it is a wonder Manuel opted to put rubber ducks in each player's locker rather than cans of WD-40.
But as Lidge retired all three batters he faced in the ninth inning, the final on a foul out, such talk left the building.
"We didn't play that well,'' said Pat Burrell, who, along with Rollins and Ryan Howard was held hitless (0-for-12). "Really, we had a lot of opportunity to score and get a lot more runs and we didn't do it. Obviously, we are super excited about winning, but we need to play better baseball.''
They'll have an opportunity to do so with a 1-0 series lead.
One win down.
Three to go.
Game 2 awaits. *