For Tampa, there's no tomorrow
The only way for the Rays to stay alive is to beat ace Cole Hamels tonight
Hamels is is 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA in four starts this postseason
Tampa Bay is hitting just .187 for the Series
PHILADELPHIA -- You have to hate it when the grouchy baseball fans in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and all those other places where no one is watching this World Series -- in close-to-record-low numbers, apparently -- turn out to be right. They warned us that a Tampa Bay-Philadelphia World Series would be a yawner.
And, dangit, here we are in a suddenly lopsided Series, with the Phillies up three games to one and their best pitcher poised to silence the Rays for good in Game 5 on Monday night. The 104th World Series is a few more wild swings and booted balls from becoming, for anyone outside of Southeastern Pennsylvania, the worst kind of Fall Classic: a completely forgettable one.
Oh, things can change in a hurry in the World Series. And sometimes they do. But the only way to turn this one around, to keep it from becoming just another ho-hummer in what is now a half-decade of Series stinkers, is for the Rays to do the seeming impossible in Game 5. The only way to save this Series is for the Rays to beat Cole Hamels, in Philadelphia.
Tall order? If you've seen any of this Series, or any of Hamels this postseason, you know that's the case.
Too tall? Well, the Rays put themselves into this position.
"We've got one game," said dinged-up Rays outfielder Cliff Floyd, who was dropped from the active roster. "You gotta hope the guys relax just a bit and let the bats go."
Yes, the Rays pushed this World Series to the edge of postseason infamy -- or, worse yet, cultural irrelevance -- when they came to Philly and quickly forgot what got them here. The pitching, a supposed strength of this team, has been punched around, most notably on Sunday in an embarrassing 10-2 loss in Game 4. The Rays' hitters have gone comatose, especially the ones that they have needed the most. (Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria, the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, are a combined 0-for-29, with 15 strikeouts.) The once-steady defense has made five errors in four games. Akinori Iwamura made two egregious ones on Sunday, the first time he's ever made two errors in a game.
These Rays don't look anything like the team that won 97 games, the American League East title and playoff series against the White Sox and Red Sox to get to the first World Series in franchise history. And if there is any chance at saving this Series, we need to see those Rays tonight.
"It's such a small sample size in the playoffs. You can't judge a team by that," insists outfielder Rocco Baldelli. "You can't play your best baseball every single game."
The Rays are proving that in this Series. No matter how well the Phillies have played in the first four games -- Ryan Howard has three home runs and Jimmy Rollins has five hits in the last two games, Jamie Moyer was fantastic in his Game 3 start, Joe Blanton was very good in Game 4 and Carlos Ruiz is suddenly Johnny Bench -- we simply aren't seeing the best of the Rays.
The Rays' errors have been terrible, sloppy and unforced. The swings from their sluggers have been embarrassing, untamed and forced. Tampa Bay is hitting .187 for the Series. The Rays have only three homers in four games in parks generally friendly to hitters. The Phillies have drawn 20 walks. The Rays have nine.
Another telling measure of how badly the Rays have scuffled: Much has been made of the Phillies' problems in cashing in their runners in scoring position. In Sunday's Game 4 they started horribly again, going 0-for-4 with RISP in the first inning. But that was two more chances than the Rays had the entire game.
The Rays' excuse: They have none. According to the players they simply picked a bad time to go into a mini slump.
"We're under so much of a microscope right now, everyone wondering what's going on," Longoria said. "During the season this kind of thing happens all the time."
Maybe this is just bad timing. Maybe, as reliever J.P. Howell suggests, the Rays are about to snap out of it. "We know that this thing can change in a second," he said.
But for that to happen it's going to have to occur against Hamels, the young left-hander who's gunning to become the first pitcher in history to win five starts in a single postseason. Hamels, who beat the Rays in Game 1, is 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA in four starts this postseason. Opponents are hitting just .182 against him. He has 27 strikeouts, against just eight walks, in 29 innings.
Beating Hamels, at a raucous Citizens Bank Park, with the Phillies edging toward their first Series title since 1980 and only the second in franchise history, will be more difficult for the Rays than changing the perception of a decade of losing. It'll be harder than holding off the Red Sox for the AL East title, harder than beating back the White Sox, harder than Game 7 in the AL Championship Series against Boston.
"This team," Baldelli reminded people in a subdued Rays' clubhouse after Sunday's loss, "always plays wells when people don't expect it to play well."
The Rays will have their famed resiliency tested like never before on Monday. They get one shot at this now. One last opportunity to save this Series.
And if they don't ... well, nobody outside of Southeastern Pennsylvania, and maybe scattered parts of the Tampa Bay area, is going to remember it, anyway.