Why the Phillies beat the Rays

Where to start?

Probably the first thing is to offer condolences to Rays’ fans—take heart folks; you have a terrific team that is going to be good for quite some time. I’d like to offer a special nod to Jeremy Boyd—a regular reader and provider of feedback, especially regarding the Rays.

We regularly communicate—especially during Toronto/Tampa games—and he’s an original fan … suffering from expansion until Wednesday night. It’s the only thing that put a bit of a damper on the celebration; knowing that Jeremy was going to be down because the ride had ended.

I enjoyed sharing the highs and lows of the Rays season with him and look forward to 2009—except against Toronto of course. Take it from a guy who suffered through the 1985 ALCS, the collapse of 1987, the demolition of the 1989 ALCS, the near miss of 1990 and the chokiotti of 1991; the downs make reaching the summit that much sweeter, as Phillies fans can attest—there have been some major heartbreaks since 1980. They remember the divisional series against Montreal in 1981, the back-to-back whitewashes by the Cardinals in mid-September the following year that sent them skidding into second place to stay, the “Wheeze Kids” of 1983, the “touch ‘em all Joe” ten years later and the sweep by the Rockies in last year’s NLDS.

I get choked up when I watch baseball lifers like Jamie Moyer and Matt Stairs finally reach the summit for the first time in late career—it’s always special to see the old warhorses celebrate baseball’s ultimate moment. It couldn’t happen to nicer guys. It was similar with watching Dave Winfield in 1992, Paul Molitor in 1993, and Tim Raines in 1996.

I think of how amazing the Phillies were in going from 3.5 games out of the division lead in the second week of September to watching the dog pile at Citizens Bank Park—they won 12 of 15 to wrap up the regular season and went 11-3 in the post season, making them and amazing 23-6 when it matters most. I’ll always treasure Cole Hamels making the transition from young star to big-game ace, Brad Lidge not blowing a save from Opening Day to the final game and never having to answer questions about Albert Pujols again.

I’ll always laugh when I think about an article in the Delco Times in September 2007 when he (I won’t mention names since it has to be beyond embarrassing now) inexplicably wrote that the Phillies “…can exchange Howard, Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels or Brett Myers for maximum value in trade” in an article advocating what he felt would improve the team.

This was discussed in “Is this for real?” where I explained what a really, really bad idea this was—it’s nice to see a couple of division titles and a World Series have borne this out.

After Lidge struck out Eric Hinske I celebrated, I went outside and overturned our car and then set fire to the cat. My wife was a little upset at me but she really became livid when I told her that it was her night to put the cat out.

Oh well.

Yes, I’m kidding. I am nowhere near strong enough to overturn a car by myself.

Heh.

I was not lying about the cat—it was my wife’s turn to put her out.

Outside that is—the cat really wasn’t on fire; I just know that there’s somebody out there that might have taken it seriously. For those of you that think it’s no joking matter I would like to point out that cats are much happier outside.

Anyway, after fetching a partially clad and somewhat hung over Bill Baer from Broad Street (who were those girls anyway Bill?) it is finally time to sit down and discuss the happy recap. This is Mr. Baer’s first Phillies World Series win, he not being among us (he’s still young—curse him) back in 1980 sometime between disco and the mullet and suffice it to say, he’s pretty ecstatic—or will be once his head stops pounding.

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For those you of discriminating tastes who haven’t been following our discussions, Bill writes for Baseball Digest Daily and has his own blog: Crashburn Alley and is not to be confused with the Bill on the right offering his critique on the owners of the Florida Marlins.

Well Bill (should I turn off the bolding?) who were the key guys in the Fall Classic?

Bill: Cole Hamels: The NLCS MVP gave up just four earned runs in 13 innings (2.77 ERA) in the World Series. It was important because the Phillies scored a total of seven runs in games Hamels started, but they won both. Had Ryan Madson not given up a game-tying solo home run to Rocco Baldelli, he would have gone 5-0 in five postseason starts in 2008.

Chase Utley and his defense: He may have only hit .167 (despite an .867 OPS) in the World Series, but he was still doing his job in the field making spectacular defensive plays at second base, none more important, more impressive, or more legendary than the one he made in Game 5 where he fielded a grounder up the middle (playing left-handed-hitting Akinori Iwamura to pull), pump-faked a throw to first base, then threw to home like a quarterback scrambling for an open receiver, nailing Jason Bartlett at the plate to preserve a 3-3 tie.

John: There are always a couple of guys you never expect who will come up big in the Fall Classic and this year was no exception. Catcher Carlos Ruiz batted .375/.500/.688 with a HR and a stolen base and Jayson Werth also went yard, stole three bags and hit .444/.583/.778. Of course, after rough starts in both the LDS and LCS, Jamie Moyer’s effort was huge.

Bill: The starting pitching was widely considered to be an advantage for the Rays, but Brett Myers, Moyer and Joe Blanton combined for 19.1 innings, allowing only eight earned runs for a 3.73 ERA. It was important to get quality starting pitching because all of the games were close except the Game 4 10-2 win behind Blanton.

John: Speaking of Blanton, his dinger was my second-favorite long ball of the post season—right behind Matt Stairs’ blast in the LCS. Speaking of advantages, it seemed that the Phillies had a huge edge going in insofar as their lineups went. While the Rays were impressive in the ALCS, it wasn’t their lumber that got them to October.

Bill: The Phillies were by no means putting on an offensive clinic during the World Series. In fact, World Series teams should do the opposite of what the Phillies did, which was to routinely fail to execute fundamental baseball plays. However, they did just enough with RISP (10 hits in 60 at-bats for a .167 average) to have enough runs on the board at the end of the game to earn the win. If the Phillies’ offense was hitting like it usually does, the Phillies finish with 34 runs scored in five games instead of 24. In fact, they likely would not have lost Game 2 if they had gotten just one or two more hits with RISP (they were 1-for-15).

John: Of course, you do have to give a bit of credit to the Rays’ pitching staff for that. While on the subject of pitching, it is amazing that Brad Lidge went the entire season without blowing a save. Even in Eric Gagne’s amazing run, he was touched up in the All Star game that year and of course the Dodgers didn’t make it to the World Series.

Bill: It’s kind of obvious at this point, but the bullpen was phenomenal. It may be one of the best aggregate bullpen performances in World Series history. Lidge, Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, Chad Durbin, and Scott Eyre combined for 24.2 innings, allowing only two earned runs for a 0.73 ERA. Madson gave up both runs, oddly enough; Lidge was perfect in his two appearances, both notching saves. Furthermore, the bullpen struck out 14 Rays while only walking one and allowed only seven hits (0.32 WHIP).

Q. You stated in our preview that the Phillies had a huge advantage when it came to bench strength. How big was it in the series?

Bill: On the list of the most important aspects of the Phillies’ team that led to their championship, the bench doesn’t rank highly, but it does deserves mention. Eric Bruntlett got on base in half his plate appearances (including that home run off of David Price in the Game 2 loss) and scored the eventual game-winning run pinch-running for Pat Burrell after his lead-off double in the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 5. Greg Dobbs also got on base in half his plate appearances. Geoff Jenkins led off the bottom of the sixth after Game 5 was resumed, pinch-hitting for Cole Hamels, and diligently worked the count full against Grant Balfour, then socked a double into right-center, and eventually scored the Phillies’ third run.

Q. Rate the job done by the managers.

Bill: There were a few times that (Joe) Maddon left you scratching your head in the World Series, and none more so than when he chose to let left hander J.P. Howell bat in the top of the seventh in Game 5. First, it’s the World Series and the game is tied 3-3, and you have a rested bullpen that includes another left hander in David Price, who can go multiple innings if necessary. Maddon surely looked at who was due up in the bottom half of the inning: Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino, and Pedro Feliz, who all hit left-handed pitching better than right-handed pitching:

Burrell   2008: .843 OPS vs RHP; .952 OPS vs LHP
Victorino 2008: .762 OPS vs RHP; .882 OPS vs LHP
Feliz     2008: .636 OPS vs RHP; .845 OPS vs LHP

Not surprisingly, Burrell creamed a Howell curveball to deep left-center that missed leaving the yard by inches. He settled for a double (it would’ve been a triple if he was faster than a turtle). Bruntlett pinch-ran for Burrell, then was moved over to third base after Victorino grounded out to the right side. And Feliz drove him in with a single up the middle.

You can go through all five games and pull out a multitude of questionable strategy decisions from both sides, but it seems like Manuel’s quirky decisions never backfired, while Maddon’s literally lost his team the World Series.

John: I guess it comes down to Lefty Gomez’s adage about how he’d rather be lucky than good. It’s a shame that so much overshadowed this World Series. I dealt with the problems stemming from Game 5 on MSN Canada and I am guessing nobody is more relieved than Bud Selig that it did not have a major impact on the series.

Still, there is no denying that it was a resounding anti-climax for many.

It’s not necessary to have the glamor franchises in the Fall Classic to have a terrific show. I remember 1980 as being hugely entertaining, there were few better than the 1991 Braves/Twins matchup and of course 1997, while heartbreaking as a Tony Fernandez fan, between the Marlins and the Tribe was incredible as well.

I could go on.

I realize that it will always be about the money when it comes to the World Series, but I think it would serve the sport well if they demanded that it be given the showcase it deserves; be it earlier starting times or getting the games in earlier in the month.

Even the starting times wouldn’t be so bad if the games were played much more crisply with less fluff and fewer delays. Having a strongly enforced set of rules surrounding hitters stepping out of the batter’s box, time between pitches and length of commercial breaks would probably get games done by 11:30 PM. There is no earthly reason why the games cannot conclude at a reasonable hour.

The first part of Game 5 was completely unwatchable; conditions were awful and it showed in the play on the field, and a snail’s pace would have been a vast improvement on how it moved along. Hardly a showcase in even the most generous of estimations.

MLB should really emphasize the “Classic” in “Fall Classic” and do everything in its power to make it so. I’m not optimistic because despite all the problems that the sport has had crop up over the decades, they have not learned the value of being proactive.

At any rate, here’s your ice pack back—many thank you’s for your help throughout this postseason.

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