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Dear America, Wish You Were Here
Tom Verducci
November 03, 2008
The Phillies and the Rays played long ball and small ball, had plenty of close calls, even rain and drama long after last call in the latest Fall Classic to open its doors to the game's upwardly mobile. So, where were you?
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November 03, 2008

Dear America, Wish You Were Here

The Phillies and the Rays played long ball and small ball, had plenty of close calls, even rain and drama long after last call in the latest Fall Classic to open its doors to the game's upwardly mobile. So, where were you?

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General manager Pat Gillick, who won titles with Toronto in 1992 and '93, turned a good club into a World Series team by thievishly filling out his roster. After arriving in November 2005, he added Moyer, Dobbs, closer Brad Lidge, utility player Eric Bruntlett, relievers Chad Durbin and Scott Eyre, third baseman Pedro Feliz and outfielders Jason Werth, Matt Stairs, So Taguchi and Geoff Jenkins--all at the major league cost of just two inconsequential players, middle reliever Geoff Geary and unproven outfielder Michael Bourn.

The Philadelphia phantasmagoria wasn't complete, however, until Hamels emerged as the bona fide stopper. The Phillies drafted him with the 17th pick in 2002 out of Rancho Bernardo in San Diego, where his appreciation for Padres closer Trevor Hoffman and his lack of an overpowering fastball led him to embrace the changeup. "Growing up in San Diego," Hamels says, "the competition is so heavy that guys can hit 95-mile-an-hour fastballs. . . . You can't really go out there and think, I can blow away everybody."

Over 84 major league starts, the 6' 3", 190-pound Hamels has gone 38-23 and established his change as one of the best in the game. "I play catch with him, and even then the movement on his changeup is amazing to see," Moyer says. "What separates his from other guys' is he has such good movement and he throws it to both sides of the plate. The typical lefthanded changeup moves down and away from righthanders. But Cole will throw his anytime and anywhere. He can get away with throwing it down and in to lefthanders because there's so much movement. Maybe a scientist can explain it better, the way he's tall and it's all about levers and such. But it's so good, it's almost like an optical illusion as it comes to the plate."

Only the forces of nature could slow Hamels's ascension to the pantheon of elite postseason pitchers. Slogging through the rain on Monday night, Hamels limited the Rays to one run through 52⁄3 innings before the soggy conditions and Tampa Bay finally caught up to him. With two outs and nobody on, B.J. Upton reached on an infield single, hydroplaned to second with a stolen base and scored on the single by Peña. The hit and the rain--Game 5 was suspended in the bottom of the sixth--ended Hamels's bid to become the first pitcher ever to win five starts in a postseason, the 2008 version of which had become his personal property as much as October 1988 had belonged to Orel Hershisher.

"He likes being in this position," pitching coach Rich Dubee says of the player teammates call Hollywood for his comfort in the spotlight. "He knows he has stardom written all over him."

Hollywood stole the glamour from the Rays, who otherwise were a breakout hit themselves. They set a postseason record with 23 stolen bases and, through Monday, were just two home runs shy of that postseason record (27 by the 2002 Giants). Tampa Bay's youth and ability to manufacture runs, without any great sacrifice in power, make it the right team at the right time, a well-rounded model for the post-Mitchell Report era: The AL home run champion this year (Detroit's Miguel Cabrera) went deep the fewest times (37) for an AL leader since 1989. The Rays' inventiveness was on full display in Game 2, which they won 4-2 without an extra-base hit but with the help of three runs that scored on outs--two groundouts and a safety squeeze. "I can't tell you how happy I was with that," Maddon said. "Ground ball, ground ball, bunt, three points right there. That's beautiful."

Beautiful? Indeed, the Series was shaping up as a connoisseur's delight, with the little-watched Game 3 installment continuing the trend. The Rays, down 4-1 in the seventh, summoned more resourcefulness, tying the game with two runs on groundouts and adding another in the eighth without the ball leaving the infield, thanks to Upton's speed. The centerfielder beat out an infield single and, one out later, zipped around the bases on two pitches, stealing second on the first and third on the next, then continuing home when catcher Carlos Ruiz threw wildly.

The Phillies answered with a bizarre run of their own to win the game in the ninth. Bruntlett, a .217 batter, was hit by a J.P. Howell fastball to open the inning, moved to second on a wild pitch and continued to third on a throwing error by catcher Dioner Navarro. Maddon had the next two batters intentionally walked to load the bases, then repositioned rightfielder Ben Zobrist to a fifth infield spot, behind the mound and in front of second base. At 13 minutes before two in the morning, the diamond in South Philly resembled the 30th Street train station. Fifteen men were jammed around it: five infielders, four umpires, three baserunners, a pitcher, a catcher and a batter, Ruiz. Taking a mighty cut, Ruiz--himself only a .219 hitter during the regular season--found one piece of no-man's-land inside the crowded infield. He bounced a 45-foot dribbler toward third; Evan Longoria hopelessly flung the ball wildly to the plate. The latest start in World Series history (10:06 p.m. first pitch) ended with the first walk-off infield hit in World Series history.

I think it's great that right now the game is getting back to a game for athletes with speed and multiple skills," Rollins said before Game 4. "I look at a guy like B.J., and he's just ridiculous. He can just flat out fly. But you know what? It's pretty good to have power too. There's still nothing like having the ability to score with one swing."

Indeed, for all their young legs, the Phillies, trying to become the first team since the 1984 Tigers to lead its league in homers and win the World Series, still can mash with any team in baseball, as their Game 4 rout attested. Howard drove in half the runs with two swings, a three-run bomb to left and a two-run bomb to right. Werth also walloped a homer, as, remarkably, did winning pitcher Joe Blanton, a career .061 hitter (2 for 33, postseason included) whose ovoid silhouette and massive swing made him look, as Stairs put it, "like a younger Babe Ruth."

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