ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Although the final score may indicate otherwise, the opportunities were there, both big and small.
On a large scale, the Phillies had a chance last night to do something that hadn't been done since 1980 by taking a 2-0 lead in a World Series. But it was their failure in the smaller opportunities a baseball game presents - namely, putting the ball in play with runners on base - that cost them a chance to take a significant step toward their first World Series since that magical year.
Afterward, as the Phillies nursed a 4-2 loss to the Rays, a struggling offense was left to answer questions they've faced at varying points throughout this whimsical season, while at the same time keeping some perspective in a series tied at 1.
"We came on the road and of course we would have liked to have taken two games, but everyone says make sure you split," said shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who went 0-for-5 and is now hitless in 10 World Series at-bats. "You don't want to go home 2-0, because then it's tougher, down 2-0 already. We definitely accomplished that and we didn't get the job done tonight."
More perspective: The Phillies were facing a talented pitcher, one who has played as big a role as any in the Rays worst-to-first revival.
Righthander James Shields deserves his fair share of credit for remaining in control of the game, regardless of the pressure the Phillies put on him. He kept the ball in the park, struck out four, walked two, and did not allow a run in 5 2/3 innings.
Nevertheless, the Phillies acknowledged a fair share of culpability:
* They were hitless in their first six at-bats with runners in scoring position. Combined with their 0-for-13 performance in Game 1, it left them 0-for-19, the second-longest hitless streak with runners in scoring position to begin a World Series (the Dodgers started the 1966 World Series 0-for-22).
* They finished the game 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position, making them 1-for-28 in the first two games of the series.
* They put leadoff men on base in six innings, and failed to score in all but one. Of the first 18 innings of the series, they've had runners on base with no out in 10, scoring in just two.
"I don't think the layoff [between the NLCS and World Series] had much to do with it," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We had more guys on base than they had. We've had more chances to score than they've had. We just didn't execute and score the runs. We've been getting hits and putting guys on base. We just didn't execute."
In Game 1, they were able to escape with a win thanks to a solid effort by ace lefthander Cole Hamels.
Last night, with righthander Brett Myers allowing two runs in the first inning and one in the second for an early 3-0 deficit, they were afforded no such luxury.
Although Myers eventually settled down to pitch seven quality innings, the Phillies' offense missed on several opportunities to hit their way back into the game, getting their only runs on a two-out home run by Eric Bruntlett in the eighth inning and a fielding error on Evan Longoria in the ninth that allowed Carlos Ruiz to score from second.
Early on, they had an opportunity to turn the game into a good old-fashioned American League slugfest, putting their first two runners on base in the second. But Shane Victorino popped out in foul territory on the first pitch he saw from Shields, leaving Pat Burrell and Ryan Howard standing on first and second. They moved to second and third on a 1-2 wild pitch to Greg Dobbs, but Dobbs struck out and Pedro Feliz grounded out to end the threat.
The troubles didn't end there.
Ruiz doubled to lead off the third inning, was left stranded on base. In the fourth, the Phillies had runners at the corners with one out and did not score as Dobbs struck out and Feliz grounded out.
With runners on first and second and one out in the fifth, Chase Utley lined out to Rays rightfielder Rocco Baldelli, who then nailed Jayson Werth scrambling to get back to first base.
By the time all was said and done and the Rays were celebrating the first victory in a World Series game in the franchise's 10-year history, the Phillies had left men stranded in scoring position in six of nine innings.
"Is it guys pressing or are guys just not getting it done? You want to get the job done, but unfortunately we're not right now," Victorino said. "We were able to pull one off last night. We were able to get ourselves in a situation to win the game or tie the game with one swing late in the game today. And that's without executing . . . We've got to look at the positives."
The Phillies were hurt by two controversial non-calls.
Manuel and Myers both thought that Baldelli should have been called out on a checked swing in the second inning.
In the ninth, replays showed that Rollins was hit on the shirt on a David Price pitch, but he wound up popping to shortstop.
By and large, though, there wasn't much to energize the vocal faction of Phillies fans who speckled the Trop.
With Werth on first and the tying run at the plate, Chase Utley struck out and Ryan Howard grounded out to end the game.
As Rays manager Joe Maddon walked off the field, he waved with both hands to the crowd at Tropicana Field.
The Phillies, meanwhile, trudged into the visitors dugout.
A split on the road with three straight at home is not a bad way to start a World Series.
"They are a good ballclub, we're a good ballclub," said Dobbs, who went 1-for-3 as the designated hitter. "Nothing is going to be easy. And I think they would say the same thing." *