Thomas Boswell: Phillies Don't Roll Over for Favored Rays
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. If ever a World Series needed a Game 1 wake-up call, a shot across the bow and a slap in the face to a cheerful consensus, then this was the one. Rays, Rays, Rays of hope. Adorable Baby Rays. Rays in seven. Rays in six, five or four. Do we hear Rays in three games plus a forfeit?
Luckily, the Philadelphia Phillies, a little crude, definitely not adorable, accustomed to boos with their breakfast, rather than cheers for merely breathing, decided to show up just to be ornery. Why, maybe they'll even win their second Series ever.
Before a cowbelling crowd of baseball novices trying to master the infield fly rule before their team is crowned champ, the Phils' Chase Utley announced the visitors' intentions immediately with a two-run homer in the top of the first inning.
To underline the Phils' formidable entrance, lefty Cole Hamels pitched seven innings, giving up two runs, in a 3-2 victory. Just so more of the central Phils cast members could be introduced immediately, reliever Brad Lidge finished the deal in the ninth; that's 47 for 47 in save chances, including October.
"I can't think of quite no other way, if you want to shut the cowbells up, no better way than hit some home runs," said Manager Charlie Manuel, channeling, as usual, his inner Stengel. "What Chase did, that was pretty good, wadn't it? He plays hard and, over the season, he gets wore down. So, I'd say the [six-day] layoff before the Series probably helped him. Yup . . .
"It's nice to see Utley get some national attention but what's amazing about him is, he don't really care."
Much like Charlie, whose sublime indifference often serves him well. For two days he said he wouldn't give out his Game 1 lineup because "I never know. I might look and change it right at the last moment. You never know. Seriously."
Baseball has always been divided between the intuitionist managers and the theoreticians. The former, like Lou Piniella, Jack McKeon and Manuel, sometimes do their best (or luckiest) work in postseason, because they love the racetrack and trust a mid-game hunch they can't explain.
The theorists, like the Rays' Joe Maddon, who calls Gene Mauch his favorite manager, sometimes find themselves without a choice in a crisis. The theory, the percentages, the right way to play the sport over 162 games, must always take precedence. Tony La Russa and Earl Weaver thought there was a Right Way. Bah, hunch bug.
Maddon reached such a moment in the fourth inning with men on second and third, one out and No. 9 hitter Carlos Ruiz at the plate. Play back and concede a run on a ground ball? Or pull the infield in against the other team's weakest hitter? In a duel between Hamels and the Rays' Scott Kazmir, how important will one run be?
Theory won the day with Maddon. But, in practice, the Phils won this game because Ruiz hit a grounder directly to shortstop that only scored the eventual game-winning run because the infield was back. Not a wrong or right decision. Just a choice. But still decisive.
"Definitely, with a man on third base only, we'd play in," Maddon said. "But with two men in position to score on just one hit, it's not nearly as attractive."