Rays don't look like same team
The Rays did not pound the ball like they did against the Red Sox
To a man, the Rays insisted the pressure did not get to them in Game 1
For one night, the Rays' play was a reminder of their decade of disaster
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Trop was a trip, loud and raucous and ready for the first World Series ever for the worst-to-first darlings. But were the Rays ready to play?
They certainly didn't look anything like the same team that often overpowered the Red Sox in the ALCS. There was no barrage of home runs (though beloved longtime Ray sufferer Carl Crawford did hit one, providing a brief thrill). There were only five hits in all, and just as few threats. And, whenever there was a chance for Tampa Bay, there was B.J. Upton, the hottest home run hitter on the planet only a week ago, hitting into a killer double play.
Perhaps it wasn't all their fault. The Rays faced the absolute best the Phillies had to offer, from ace Cole Hamels to newly dominant set-up man Ryan Madson to Brad Lidge, Mr. Perfect himself who made it 47-for-47. Perhaps the Rays will be back on their crazy playoff power game tonight against Brett Myers, who's no Hamels. But for one night, in the biggest game of their lives, the 97-win Rays reverted to their previously sour history in their 3-2 Game 1 defeat (Recap | Box) to the Phillies.
Those ultra-talented kids Upton and Evan Longoria just looked like lost kids in Game 1, and so did Carlos Pena. The trio of stars who destroyed the Sox were a combined 0-for-12 with five whiffs. The enormity of the game just might have weighed on them, and if it did, it's hard to blame them. Who thought the World Series would come to this drab but loud place so suddenly?
To a man, the Rays say no, though. They all say they were loose and relaxed before the game. And after it, as well. Upton said their usual 30-minute mourning period went by even faster. Even for him, whose World Series began dreadfully.
But if there wasn't pressure then, there is plenty of pressure now. And Longoria, a sage 24-year-old if there ever was one, opined, "It's obviously in my opinion a must-win for us (tonight in Game 2). At the same time, we lost Game 1 of the ALCS ... Not to put any added pressure on myself or the rest of the guys, but we have to come to the ballpark and throw it all out there.''
To a man, the Rays didn't fault themselves for Game 1. Many of them say they played a solid game, instead crediting the left-hander Hamels for keeping them off balance and at bay (no pun intended) with his trademark changeup, which some think is the best in the game. The Rays say you can't tell much about a great pitcher by watching film. Now they will be ready, they say.
By the end, the Rays looked especially limp. The game ended with a foul popout to third by Crawford after three straight whiffs of Upton, Pena and Longoria, the very threesome who had so devastated the Red Sox. The way the Rays went down represented a brief reminder of the decade of disaster down here. Whatever happens here will not put a damper out on their season out of nowhere. But this is not the same team we saw last week.
The Rays acted down but not out. They know they've been here before. They lost Game 1 to the Red Sox before coming back to win in seven games. To a man, they insisted this felt no different, even though it is different.
This wasn't just a playoff game, it was history. But J.P. Howell said, "For us, it's just game No. 174 today and 175 tomorrow. That's the way we look at it. It's so great. We come out tomorrow with a clean slate.''
Nobody needs that slate more than Upton, who looked the antithesis of the superhuman stud he played in the first two playoff series. The young man who hit seven home runs in his first two playoff series after just nine dingers in the regular season is back to being just another guy. Upton grounded into double plays his first two times up.
He insisted it wasn't the hype and history weighing on him, or them. "No, not at all,'' Upton said. "[Hamels] made some good pitches.''
He made many of them to Upton, who lamented the one-hop screamer he hit to third baseman Pedro Feliz that turned into a double play with the bases loaded. "I hit the ball right at him,'' Upton said. "You can't quite guide it after you hit it.''
There was question as to whether Upton busted it down the line on either DP grounder, though it's sometimes hard to tell with a player who glides rather than runs. He laughed off the suggested he failed to run his hardest on either double play.
"Yeah, I did,'' Upton said in response to a question about whether he ran hard on the first-inning double play ball hit to second baseman Chase Utley. "It was right at him, actually, a tailor-made double play.''
He laughed again when he was question about the second double play, the real rally killer of the evening, in the third inning. "One-hop line drive right to him,'' Upton said. "The ball's at second base before I get out of the box. There's nothing you can do.''
The Rays, who made a whole season and two previous playoff series out of doing more than anyone could possibly imagine them doing, feel comfortable sending their ace James Shields to the mound for Game 2. After that, it's ALCS MVP Matt Garza followed by control artist Andy Sonnanstine.
They are far from history in this series. From a matchup standpoint, this was the one the Phillies had to have. This was one the Rays could afford to lose, as long as it was an aberration and not a portend of things to come. To a man, they say it was.