Major Leagues: World Series begins tonight
By Ronald Blum
The Philadelphia Phillies got an early look at Tropicana Field, site of tonight’s World Series opener.
Instead of waiting until the day before, they worked out Monday evening at the quirky ballpark. By the time the first pitch is thrown, they will have been off for six days since winning the NL pennant.
“Once we kind of get back to that flow, it starts to come naturally,” Ryan Howard said.
It will be a World Series of contrasts: North vs. South. Old vs. New. Rest vs. rust. Beloved vs. belittled.
Well, both have disparaged over the years.
The frustrated Phillies have been around since 1883 but the losingest team in the history of U.S. major leagues has had just one title to celebrate, back in 1980. The Rays? The franchise didn’t start play until 1998, didn’t have a winning season until this year and didn’t even shed the Devil from its nickname until after completing play in 2007.
“People were happy when we got our 71st win. People were excited when we got our 81st win, saying you guys have cleared the .500 mark. We still kept going,” said Rays pitcher Matt Garza, the AL championship series MVP. “We’ve proved doubters wrong this entire time.”
Philadelphia is famous for the Liberty Bell, cheesesteaks and booing Santa Claus. Tampa/St. Pete is known for the Gasparilla Festival and strip clubs. Until now, its most noted baseball team was the Yankees, who have held spring training there since 1996.
But baseball’s glamourpusses have all gone home, with the Yankees and Mets failing to make the postseason, and the Cubs, Dodgers and defending champion Red Sox all getting bounced out of the playoffs.
Tampa Bay was a 200-1 shot to win the Series when betting opened, ahead of only Kansas City and Washington (both 250-1). Philadelphia was 18-1.
“They’re resilient. I think both clubs are similar in that way,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “We’re not going to quit. I think this year they definitely learned that. They’re young and they’re flying on a high. We’re kind of settled.”
After going from a major league-worst 66-96 last year to 97-65 this season, Tampa Bay has a bit of an aura. While the Phillies opened the season with the 13th-highest payroll in the major leagues at $98 million, the Rays were 29th at $44 million, ahead of only Florida.
Philadelphia (42,254) had the fourth-highest attendance average in the NL; Tampa Bay (22,370) was 12th among the 14 AL teams.
Even the general managers are a contrast.
While the Phillies’ GM is 71-year-old Pat Gillick, who put together Toronto teams that won World Series titles in 1992 and 1993, Tampa Bay’s executive vice president for baseball operations is 31-year-old Andrew Friedman, a former Bear Stearns analyst.
“Nobody expects us to win. Everybody expected us to lose 90 games this year,” said 23-year-old David Price, who got his first professional save in the pennant clincher. “We lost seven in a row going into the All-Star break. People thought that was it. The Rays are going to slowly die out. But that’s not the case.”
Philadelphia bounced back in September to overcome the Mets for the second straight season. For so many years, the headlines read “Phillies Phold.” Not this year, at least not yet.
“Philadelphians, they’ve been starving for a winner,” Manuel said. “Let me put it like this, we’re due. We’re here. Why not get it?”
There’s some history between the cities ó just not in baseball.
The Buccaneers won the 2003 Super Bowl over Oakland after defeating the Eagles |27-10 in the NFC championship. The Lightning defeated Calgary to win the Stanley Cup in 2004 after beating the Flyers 2-1 in Game 7 of the conference finals.
Philadelphia is just 1-4 in the World Series, beating the Kansas City Royals in 1980, but losing to the Boston Red Sox (1915), New York Yankees (1950), Baltimore Orioles (1983) and Toronto Blue Jays (1993).
Based on the last two years, the six-day layoff between their five-game victory over the Dodgers and the Series opener won’t help.
Following eight days off, the Colorado Rockies were swept by Boston last year. Detroit had a six-day rest in 2006, then lost to the Cardinals in six games.
“Sometimes a team will continue to be hot, and that could be a benefit to the Rays,” Phillies closer Brad Lidge said. “Sometimes it’s such an achievement just to get there that you let your guard down. There’s no way for me to tell right now how they’re going to react. We’ll just have to see in the game.”