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Rays tie the series at 1-1

by Matt Smith

The last five teams who won game one of the World Series have all gone on to lift the trophy, so the Tampa Bay Rays knew that a victory in game two was essential in their attempt to stop the Phillies from continuing this streak.  Thanks to some good fundamental baseball by the home team and the continuing struggles of the Phillies with runners in scoring position, the Rays earned a 4-2 victory to level the series at 1-1. 

Game two followed the opener by being another close game in which the team that took a first inning lead was able to hold on to the advantage throughout.  This time it was the Rays who put two runs on the scoreboard in the bottom of the inning.

The opening run came when the number three batter Carlos Pena hit the ball to the right side of the infield to bring home Akinori Iwamura.  This would have been a tailor-made double play had Jayson Werth not committed an error allowing B.J. Upton to reach second base on a single during the previous at-bat.  Instead of being forced out at second, Upton was able to advance to third and then scored on a groundout by Evan Longoria.  It was a case of two runs coming off two productive outs to take advantage of a fielding error; one team executing the little plays well and the other making mistakes.

That first inning set the tone for the rest of the game.  None of Tampa Bay’s seven hits went for extra bases, but they made them count by playing a classic game of ‘smallball’ to manufacture runs and to make timely defensive plays to kill any potential Philly rallies.  Nobody panicked when a suicide squeeze attempt by Jason Bartlett rolled foul in the fourth inning, the batter simply but down a perfect safety squeeze on the very next pitch to allow Cliff Floyd to trot home from third to give the Rays a 4-0 lead.  When the Phillies threatened in the fifth inning, Rocco Baldelli made a great defensive play to catch Chase Utley’s fly ball and then double off Jayson Werth at first base to end the inning. 

It was a stark contrast to the Rays’ performance in game one and no player exemplified this more than B.J. Upton.  The young centre-fielder went 0 for 4 in the opener while trying to pull the ball into row Z of the left field seats, leaving five runners stranded in the process.  His approach in game two was completely different: twice going the other way with pitches on the outside half of the plate (something that particularly impressed Five’s pundit Josh Chetwynd).  Perhaps it was a case of Upton trying too hard to make something happen in game one and simply getting back to basics?  He isn’t well known for trying too hard, as shown by a poor effort to run out a double-play in the seventh inning (something that Five’s other presenter Jonny Gould was particularly unimpressed by), but it would be natural for a young player to be pressing at the plate in such an important occasion.

While the Rays learned from their game one mistakes, the Phillies did the exact opposite.  They once again left eleven runners on base, getting the lead-off batter on board six times and only driving him home on one occasion.  This solitary success came in the top of the ninth following a lead-off double by Carlos Ruiz, their third such hit of the game.  The Phillies are 1 for 28 with runners in scoring position over the first two games and there’s no doubt that they will lose this series unless that changes quickly.

Looking at the probable pitching match-ups prior to the series beginning, the Phils only appeared to have the advantage in game one.  Cole Hamels’ brilliance meant that their failure to capitalize on run-scoring opportunities did not come back to bite them in the opener.  Brett Myers was solid enough in game two, giving up four runs over seven innings, but solid isn’t good enough when your offense keeps letting chances pass them by.  Both of the Phillies’ probable starters in games three and four, Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton, are likely to produce a Myers-type performance at best rather than a Hamels-type performance so the offense will have to raise their game.

For the Rays, James Shields was effective without really dominating the Phillies’ lineup.  He kept the score close and let his team mates do the rest.  The rookie David Price continued to impress, not least with the way in which he recovered from a shaky start.  Although he gave up two runs, one coming on Eric Bruntlett’s pinch-hit homer in the eighth, he made his pitches when he needed to, particularly when striking out Ryan Howard to end the seventh and then getting the same player to groundout to Iwamura to end the game.

There were two strange umpiring moments in game two, although neither really counted for much.  While Phillies fans will point to the missed HBP on Jimmy Rollins in the ninth as a potential rally-killer, their team had done little to suggest that they would have capitalized on it anyway.  As for the walk/checked swing call on Rocco Baldelli, the right decision was made even if the home plate umpire signaled it in an unconventional way.

The Rays had to take game two after losing the opener and they did just that.  The series will resume in Philadelphia on Saturday night after a rest day, allowing the Phillies to ponder their run-scoring woes and allowing British fans to catch up on some sleep.

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