Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hamels Cools Rays Bats in Game One

I guess no one told the Phillies they were supposed to be rusty after their week off.

Instead, the NL Champs looked just fine from the start. Chase Utley started his first World Series with a bang, hitting a two-run shot off Scott Kazmir in the first inning. With Cole Hamels on the mound, the Phillies knew it wouldn't take much more than that (though it would've been nice).

Hamels took care of business yet again this October, improving his record to 4-0, in guiding the Phillies to a 3-2 win. He went 7 strong innings, giving up just two runs to an offense that terrorized the Red Sox in the ALCS.

The Phillies offense, despite scoring only three runs, had a solid performance. The Phillies reached base fourteen times yesterday (compared to just seven for the Rays), but were never able to bust the game open, going hitless with runners in scoring position and failing on several occasions to bring home a runner from third with less than two outs. Carlos Ruiz managed to bring a runner in from third in the fourth inning, scoring Shane Victorino to extend the Phillies' lead to 3-0.

The Rays had their share of missed opportunities as well, with B.J. Upton being the main culprit. Upton hit into two double plays in the game, including one with the bases loaded in the third that bailed Hamels out of a jam. Tampa finally got on the board in the fourth due to a Carl Crawford solo shot and then Akinori Iwamura made it a one-run game in the fifth with an RBI double, but that would be all the Rays could muster. Hamels handled them in the sixth and seventh with little difficulty.

Both bullpens looked dominant, but while the Rays 'pen looked formidable, the Phillies' Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge were untouchable. The pair combined for two perfect innings and three strikeouts to secure the win.

The Rays bullpen was good, but not great. In three innings, it kept the Phillies scoreless, but allowed two hits and two walks. But what really made the difference was the starting pitching. Hamels was the same dominant pitcher that he was in the National League (no doubt shocking some AL elitists who believe they're playing a AAA team). Kazmir was, well, the same pitcher the Red Sox saw in the ALCS. He delivered a quality start, but against an ace of Hamels' caliber, that's not good enough.

Hamels is the older of the two young starters (if only by a month. Well then maybe in a month Kazmir will understand) and it showed, as he was as composed as any pitcher we've seen this October.

No doubt many will argue that the Phillies squeaked by in this one and, had the Rays been a bit better with situational hitting, they would have taken the game. Maybe so, but the Phillies, Utley aside, were in fact far worse with their clutch hitting, stranding eleven runners. Not to mention, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and Pat Burrell combined to go 0 for 12 with 2 walks. That's unlikely to last.

As impressive as this win was, the real test comes tomorrow, when Brett Myers faces James Shields. Shields has been the better of the two pitchers this year, but Myers had an excellent second half and has been solid in the postseason. The only real blemish on Myers' October comes from a Manny Ramirez three-run shot that ended up being meaningless. With Manny being Manny a safe distance away, Myers could well return to the form that got him through seven innings against the Brewers.

Of course, there are few players more unpredictable than Myers, so who knows, but whatever happens tomorrow, tonight's win was one hell of a start.

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