Coming into the 2008 baseball season the Philadelphia Phillies were spotted 14:1 odds by the Vegas bookmakers to win the World Series. Comparitively, the Tampa Bay Rays (formerly Devil Rays) were given 150:1 odds of winning the series.
The Phillies were supposed to possibly make the series last season before being swept by the white-hot wild card entry Colorado Rockies in the divisional series. The Rays were appearing to be in the wine business the last decade or so taking up residence as cellar-dwellers in nine of their first ten seasons in baseball.
Moreover, Tampa finished dead last with the worst record in baseball last season. The only thing a die-hard Ray fan like Dick Vitale could muster after another season like that was an “Ouch Baby” instead of his usual jovial “That’s Awesome Baby!” which better describes the Rays of this season.
The beauty of this time of year culminates in memorial under autumn leaves and cooling air. On television there are the highlights from the last time both teams won the World Series. Oh wait, this is the Phillies and the Rays, who have a combined one World Championship between them.
The Phillies' World Championship was won when baseball was in its polyester hangover from the 70’s and pants were spandex tight. It may have been great for the time, but most of the kids these days probably look at those highlights and think, “I guess you had to be there.”
Mike Schmidt and the World Series return of the Big Red Machine remnant transplanted in Philly were the story of that series. While the likes of Pete Rose, Tony Perez, and Joe Morgan acquired their third ring, Mike Schmidt was named the series MVP and that remained his only championship.
Schmidt ironically was on hand last night in Tampa for the first game of the 2008 World Series but will not be in Philadelphia for the series due to a family reunion previously scheduled in Denver as he explained on ESPN radio yesterday.
The series began immediately with a first ball strike to Jimmy Rollins from Rays starter Scott Kazmir. Rollins promptly popped out on the next pitch to right field and Tampa appeared to be in control. Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth worked Kasmir for a walk after reaching a full count when the Tampa pitcher briefly wrestled with his control.
Chase Utley came up next and quickly fell behind 0-2 missing on Kazmir’s fastball. Utley wound up taking a 2-2 inside fastball out to right field for a quick 2-0 Phillies lead as the Tampa cowbells stopped ringing briefly as a shock of an early deficit overtook the crowd.
In the top of the second Kazmir continued to wrestle with his control in loading the bases. With one out, Jimmy Rollins hit a fly ball to center field where B.J. Upton caught the ball and came up throwing a laser to Rays catcher Dioner Navarro caught the ball and tagged out Shane Victorino at the plate, which finished what was shaping up to be a promising inning for the Phillies.
In the top of the third the Phillies clearly established their bad habit of stranding runners as they left Jayson Werth stranded on third.
In the bottom half, the Rays got their offense going a little bit after Ben Zorbist, Jason Bartlett, and Akinori Iwamura all reached base with one out. Suddenly Phillies' starting pitcher Cole Hamels was in a bases loaded jam with B.J. Upton coming up to bat. Pitching Coach Rich Dubee came out to calm Hamels down after Iwamura’s single. It must have worked because Hamels induced a 5-4-3 double play and kept the Rays off the scoreboard.
The top of the fourth inning started with Shane Victorino reaching base on a single and ended up scoring on a Carlos Ruiz ground out. This extended the Phillies lead to 3-0.
In the bottom of the fourth with two outs, Carl Crawford took Hamels' first pitch out of the ball park and narrowed the Philadelphia lead to 3-1.
The Rays started brewing a rally in the bottom of the fifth after Jason Bartlett reached base on a base on balls. Iwamura took a 3-2 fastball into the left center gap for an RBI double shaving the Phillies lead down to 3-2.
Controversy took center stage in the bottom of the sixth when Carlos Pena as Cole Hamels threw to first as Pena took off for second base. Joe Maddon immediately erupted after Pena was thrown out at second since he thought Hamels did not step towards first, which would be ruled a balk and giving Pena second base. Unfortunately for the Rays the umpires disagreed and what could have been a promising inning ended quickly as Hamels stayed the course on his solid outing.
In the late innings the Phillies continued to strand runners leaving two on in the seventh and two more in the ninth bringing them to a total of 11 stranded on the night as Tampa only left three aboard. Phillies' relievers Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge took control of the game after Hamels departure totaling three strikeouts, no walks, and no hits to close out the game.