10 Reasons why this will be a World Series worth watching
The Rays could become the first team to go from worst record to a championship
The Phillies have one World Series title and more losses than any other team
The Phils led the NL in home runs; the Rays led the majors in stolen bases
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Ratings-wise, without a team from New York or Chicago or L.A. or Boston, the World Series will not be a TV bonanza. Figure something a lot closer to a re-run of The Steve Harvey Show than to American Idol.
Baseball-wise, though, a Series between the Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays is intriguing on a lot of fronts -- not the least of which is that it features no teams from New York or Chicago or L.A. or Boston. This will be a Series filled with fresh faces, different skylines and new storylines, a best-of-seven on Eastern Time. It might not play in San Francisco or Seattle. But, heck, they don't play much ball there, anyway.
Here are 10 reasons that this year's World Series -- Game 1 is on Wednesday night at St. Pete's Tropicana Field, the first Series game in a fixed-roof stadium in the wild-card era -- might be worth watching:
1. Worst to first
The Rays have been the best story in baseball this year. Never before winners, now in the World Series, the Rays are trying to become the first team in major league history -- the first in North America's four major professional sports, in fact -- to go from the worst record in its league one year to winning a championship the next.
The list of teams that have gone from worst to the championship, only to lose: the 1991 Braves (fell to the Twins in the World Series), the 1958-59 Minneapolis Lakers (to the Celtics in the NBA Finals), the 1949-50 New York Rangers (to the Red Wings for the Stanley Cup) and the 1958-59 Maple Leafs (to the Canadiens).
2. The 28-year itch
When you're talking about bad teams, you have to start with the Phillies. Their last World Series title, in 1980, remains their only World Series title. And they've been playing baseball in Philadelphia since 1883, when the Quakers went 17-81.
The Phillies once went 16 straight years without a winning record. Last year they became the first professional team to lose 10,000 games. "I don't know too much about 10,000 losses," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said at the time. "I try and concentrate on the wins."
3. Joe and Charlie
Probably no two managers in the game are more different in style than the Phillies' Manuel and the Rays' Joe Maddon. They both come from working-class towns -- Manuel from Northfork, West Va., and Maddon from Hazleton, Pa. -- but where Manuel exudes a rural and homespun vibe, Maddon seems worldly and erudite.
Maddon often bikes to work, even when he's on the road. Manuel looks as if he would want nothing to do with a bike. No one eschews the sacrifice bunt more than Maddon. Manuel's team is among the foremost practitioners of it. Maddon always seems cool and under control. When he was in Japan, Manuel was known as the Red Devil for his temper.
These guys are different. And different is almost always good, or at least almost always entertaining.
4. Cole Hamels
The Phillies have a few glamour players -- last year's National League MVP, for example, shortstop Jimmy Rollins -- but none matches the potential of Hamels, the team's left-handed ace.
Hamels, 24, started two games in the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers, gave up 11 hits in 14 innings, struck out 13 and won both games, including a start against the Brewers in the Division Series, Hamels -- scheduled to start Game 1 against Tampa -- is 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA this postseason.
5. Matt Garza
See, when you start talking about glamour pitchers and don't put Garza's name in there, he gets upset. That happened all throughout the American League Championship Series -- it was always Jon Lester this, Jon Lester that -- and look how Game 7 turned out.
Garza matched up against Boston's prized young lefty twice in the ALCS and beat him both times, including in Sunday night's clincher. The ALCS MVP was 2-0 in his two starts, with a 1.38 ERA. The right-hander allowed eight hits in 13 innings and struck out 14.
6. The centerfielders
Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton is one of the smoothest fielders you'll ever see. Sometimes too smooth. He glides to the ball, often catching it in stride, and plays such a shallow center that it seems he takes it for granted that he can get to anything hit his way. That isn't always the case.
Shane Victorino is a frenetic blur, a fielder who dashes to spots, turns around, adjusts, lunges, jumps when he doesn't have to and, all in all, makes an adventure out of a lot of fly balls that shouldn't be adventurous. He doesn't have Upton's arm, or his range, but he catches the balls he gets to and he makes fewer errors than his young counterpart.
7. The fans and the parks
Much to the Rays' chagrin, their fans are still learning how to do things at the Trop, the slope-domed stadium in St. Pete that they call home. The fans this postseason have been admirably loud at the right time, quaintly na´ve at others. The Rays drew 1.8 million fans this season, one of their best marks ever. It still ranked them 26th of the 30 teams.
In Philly, at five-year-old Citizens Bank Park, the fans know just what they're doing. You might not like it -- remember, Rollins called his team's fans "frontrunners" earlier this year -- but they're going to do it anyway. Philly drew almost twice as many fans as Tampa Bay this year, just more than 3.4 million, fifth in baseball.
Citizens Bank is a hitter's park with a short fence in left field, by the way. Tropicana Field factors out as a slight pitcher's park.
8. The speed
Nobody likes the three-run homer more than Manuel. But when that's not working, the Phillies can run. And they do. They were fourth in stolen bases this year, topped by Rollins (47) and Victorino (36).
The top team in stolen bases in '08? That would be the Rays, led by Upton (44) and Carl Crawford (25).
9. The bullpens
The Phillies set up everything in their bullpen to get to the incomparable Brad Lidge, who saved a game every time he had a chance. He was 41-for-41 during the regular season and is 5-for-5 in October.
The Rays? They let left-handed rookie David Price -- who was a college student last year at this time and wasn't even a part of the major league club in early September -- close out the most important game in their history on Sunday night. He did it, too, in his first chance at a save, getting the last four outs while striking out three.
10. The favorite
Who do you like between a team that never had a winning season before this one and another that has lost more games than any other team? If you want to throw out history, do you take the power team (214 homers for the Phillies, second only to the White Sox) or the speed (the Rays)? The homefield advantage (Tampa Bay) or the home crowd advantage (Philly).
Do you favor the team that fought its way through the toughest division in baseball and beat the defending World Series champ to get here (that'd be the Rays) or the one that breezed through its half of the bracket and has arrived fresh and ready to go?
This will be a different kind of World Series. And considering only one Series in the past four years has not ended in a sweep (the Cardinals beat the Tigers in five games in 2006), it might even be better than most -- even if no one decides to watch.