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Rollins Gets Phillies Started

By Mark Viera
Special to the Washington Post
Sunday, October 26, 2008; 3:23 AM

PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 25 -- No only had Philadelphia fans suffered for the 15 years before the World Series to return here, they also had to wait for a 91-minute rain delay Saturday night and for the past two games as the Phillies bat fell silent.

But within minutes Saturday, the towel-waving crowd at Citizens Bank Park had reason to cheer. Jimmy Rollins, who was hitless in the World Series, led off with a single and scored in the first inning.

Rollins was 2 for 4 and established an early tone, helping the Phillies shake off the funk of futility that had suddenly plagued them. Philadelphia later received home runs from Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in its 5-4 win against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Phillies took a 2-1 lead in the series.

"I've told everyone in there, we've taken 100,000 swings starting from February to now," Rollins said. "We can hit the ball. Sometime we forget the basic part of hitting the ball is to see the ball first. And that was a big difference for me tonight."

In Games 1 and 2, the Phillies found themselves at the intersection of solid pitching from Tampa Bay and struggling productivity from some of their stars. Philadelphia Manager Charlie Manuel said Friday that his team was pressing. The Phillies, who led the National League in home runs during the regular season, had been offensively sluggish on the biggest stage.

Rollins, who had been 0 for 10 in this series, helped atone immediately. He looked at the first pitch he saw from Matt Garza, the Rays starter who had been solid throughout the postseason. But Rolins lined a hard-hit single on the next pitch. He scored on Utley's ground out to Tampa Bay first baseman Carlos Pena. In his next at bat in the third inning, Rollins smacked a sharp grounder into right field on the first pitch he saw.

"I was just doing my job," Rollins said. "I didn't think about what it felt like. I was like, okay, now I got to try and find a way to score a run."

Rollins said he was focused on where his hands were moving -- where he would be directing his hits -- earlier in the series. By doing that, he failed to make solid contact.

"Tonight I just put everything behind me and I said see the ball," he said.

Although Rollins started Philadelphia moving on Saturday, the Phillies experienced a veritable explosion in the sixth inning. That is when Utley and Howard belted back-to-back home runs.

Leading off the inning, Utley smacked a home run on the fourth pitch. He looked at a curveball, then a fastball and then another curveball. But when a fastball came in high and inside, he deposited it over the right field fence.

Then Howard, a candidate for the NL's most valuable player with 48 home runs and 146 RBI this regular season, offered an emphatic response for his recent disappearance from the Phillies lineup in the postseason. He did not hit a home run during the 11 postseason games before Saturday.

In the sixth inning Saturday, Howard waited until the sixth pitch to take a lick at something he found palatable. Howard, who has recently been tormented by breaking pitches, seized on an 86-mph slider and drove it into the stands in right field.

"Obviously you want to see guys swinging the bat well," left fielder Eric Bruntlett said. "We didn't swing the bats well in the first two games." Addressing the Phillies hitting performance Saturday, he added, "It's certainly a trend we want to see continue."

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