Tuesday, October 21, 2008

World Series Preview: Phillies v. Rays

Well here is something I never thought I'd write about, the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. It has been 15 long years since the Phillies were in the World Series, and I was there for two of the games. Needless to say the wait has been long overdue. Amazingly I can still fit into my '93 World Series shirt, which is no testament to my physical fitness, but more to the gigantic size of that original shirt when I was a mere 10 years old.

Joe Carter ended that World Series in one of the most famous, well from where I was standing infamous, moments ever. Although a big time fan at the time, I still did not fully understand the impact of that loss. Sure the Phils losing was a bummer, but at that age, I figured we'd dust ourselves off and see you in the World Series a year or two later. Instead it has taken the Phightens the seemingly full 15 years to overcome that Carter bomb off of Wild Thing. Signing the key components of that '93 team like Lenny Dykstra and Darren Daulton cost the Phils millions. A couple of poor free agent signings after wards like Danny Tartabull (see. 1997) and Gregg Jefferies left the ownership gun shy as attendance and dollars lagged. It was a long road back and the Phillies opted for drafting and being cheap.

Sure there were some rays of hope in those lost years. Scott Rolen came and went, Curt Schilling similarly was traded for nothing, Mike Lieberthal was never anything more than a slightly above average catcher, hell we even had high hopes for Ricky Otero. That's how bad things got. We wanted to win so badly we'd put our faith in Ricky Otero! In the process the team piled and piled up losses. I watched and watched wondering if it was normal to just not field a good baseball team for this long. Is this the way it always was? The Braves were always competitive, the Twins had won a couple of World Series, and there were always the teams with the history like the Red Sox or the Yankees waiting to break out. The Phils though, they just stayed stagnant. We were thinking Rico Brogna was underrated and hoping Tyler Green could stay healthy to become the ace we hoped he would be. All in all, our team could not come together enough to even grant us a playoff berth until a year ago, where they were steamrolled by the Colorado Rockies.

With each compounding year the frustration grew. Were the Phils always that bad or did our desperation to get back to the World Series just crush players like Rolen, like Oter...ok maybe not, but you catch my drift. For all the chagrin the Phillies were going through, there were small steps being taken to create the team we have today. Selecting Jimmy Rollins in 1996, Pat Burrell in 1998 (1st Overall), Brett Myers in 1999, Chase Utley in 2000, Ryan Howard in 2001, and Cole Hamels in 2002. Very rarely do a string of players work out so well, and players that were brash, cool under the collar and focused on winning as those 6 players. Rollins the unflappable leader, Burrell the man almost broken by Philly fans only to find the kind of player he is and on the brink of winning a World Series, Myers the controversial on and off the field player who has matured into a pitcher that can go a full 9 innings, Utley the contradictory hard-nosed/laid back Cali guy, Howard the large power hitter once dangled in front of teams for trading when Jim Thome was blocking his path, and Hamels, the ace the Phillies desperately needed but would never pay for.

Of course there were a lot of other pieces that had to fall into place, but the Phillies finally found their bearings. They build up there core from the inside. The only big name free agent they ever signed post Danny Tartabull was Jim Thome. A new stadium got built, fans got excited, and those core players were given a couple of years to mature. Two of those players have been MVP's of the league, with Howard a possibility again this year and Utley an inevitability. Hamels will surely win at least one Cy Young in his career to go along with his NLCS MVP Award, Burrell is among the Phillies all-time leaders in home runs, and Brett Myers might have figured out how to be an effective top line pitcher. This is a team like teams are meant to be built. It might have taken a little bit longer than most have liked, but this is surely one of the most likable Phils teams since '93.

All skippered by Charlie Manuel. Who after many years has finally, almost won over the Phillie fans. His country slang and out of shape physique certainly did not demand respect, but admittedly after some rough times transitioning to the Philly lifestyle has become the kind of manager you want. The team loves him, and his moves have worked out as wonderful as anyone could have expected. Matt Stairs anyone?

In as unlikely a scenario they will be going up against the Tampa Bay Rays. A team that had their fair share of losses, but built this American League Championship team seemingly overnight. Coming out of nowhere and from the worst record in baseball last year, the Rays were one of the top teams in baseball all year long. They too hit a string of great draft picks: Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria and David Price. Picking players like Carlos Pena off the garbage heap and building their entire bullpen off of people no one else wanted. That has to say something for the brain trust in TB.

It is great for the Rays as a team, but I will say that there are not a less deserving group of fans out there. Should the Rays win, do they deserve it more than Cubs fan? No. More than the Phillies? No. Sure the Rays were horrible, but the 'fans' were never there. Even through most of this year, until the playoffs started, no one showed up to these games. Next thing you know fans have a custom haircut and stole a line from one of the most overdone, yet funny, Saturday Night Live skits of all time. Real creative. Sure there might be some diehard fans that were there from the beginning, but 97% of them are complete bandwagon jumpers. It's the lone negative of this Rays season.

As for the Series itself, it's not going to be easy. Are the Rays a better team? Probably. They do everything a little bit better than the Phils minus closing games, which could be taken care of with David Price being promoted to that role. The Rays have a greater homefield advantage which could pose a problem, and their pitching depth could keep the Phils big bats quiet. The Phils are no pushovers but as much a team of destiny as the Phils seem to be, the Rays seem to match them +1. Although, as much of a roll as the Rays on, so were the Dodgers. The Phils wouldn't be able to beat CC Sabathia in the NLDS, they did. The Phils have come up in huge situations and gotten a lot of breaks along the way. Things just seem to be swinging the Phils way that some crazy moments are going to tell the tale of this World Series.

The Phillies have the experience and I think more grit. They know what it is to lose, to want a little more than the Rays. I know I do.

Phillies 4-2

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