Game 1 a learning experience
On and off the field, opener offers plenty of Series subplots
ST. PETERSBURG -- Things that we learned from the first World Series game to visit Florida's Gulf Coast:
1. The Phillies are in this event, too. Many Americans have adopted the Rays. There is no denying it. New York is particularly teeming with Tampa Bay backers right now, and the frenzy has spread in a country that loves a great underdog story. But the Phillies won Game 1, 3-2.
2. It is cool to shave all the hair on your head except for a thick racing stripe down the middle, which you spray-paint blue. Rayhawks are everywhere here, and you see them on the strangest of pates. If you have a shiny pate, then a blue boa affixed to the noggin' makes for a nice Rayhawk just the same.
3. It is not cool to get out of the way when the opposing team's first baseman is lunging into the crowd to catch a foul ball. Score it E-fans, in Game 1 at Tropicana Field. This isn't the first time that poor foul-ball-catching etiquette was displayed in a postseason game, of course (hint: Wrigley Field). Jimmy Rollins was talking about how they cleared room for Ryan Howard in that situation, and he was asked what would happen if Carlos Pena tried to make a foul catch just like that back in Philadelphia:
"Would he come out alive? Yeah," Rollins said. "Bruised? Maybe."
4. Be careful what you ask for when you put the shift on for Chase Utley. During the same at-bat in which he tried to bunt for a hit down the unoccupied space at third base, Utley turned on an inside 92-mph fastball from Scott Kazmir and blasted it for a two-run homer in the first inning to set the tone.
"He's different than most left-handed hitters," Kazmir said. "I would say more of a long swing, they don't really know how to get to an inside fastball too well to a lefty. But him, you can just tell he loves to keep his hands in and he likes that short and quick swing. But I knew just from watching video and games here and there he likes a pitch in. He just gets his hands through the zone."
Said Utley: "I guess it turned out pretty well. The third baseman was playing shortstop, I figured with a guy on first and one out, I'd try to create something at that point. It was foul, but it ended up to turn out pretty good for us."
ONE FOR THE ROAD
|Six teams have now won Game 1 in the World Series on the road since the Wild Card era began in 1995, including the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies.|
|1996||Braves||Yankees||Yankees in 6|
|1999||Yankees||Braves||Yankees in 4|
|2002||Giants||Angels||Angels in 7|
|2003||Marlins||Yankees||Marlins in 6|
|2006||Cardinals||Tigers||Cardinals in 5|
5. The NL can play with the AL.
6. Cole Hamels is starting to remind you of a young Bret Saberhagen in the 1985 postseason for Kansas City and a young Josh Beckett in the 2003 postseason for Florida. You are wondering if soon you will be seeing postgame notes comparing his 2008 postseason to people like those, listing birthdates and such. He seems unbeatable this month.
7. The running game is alive and well in this series, even though both teams come in with reputations for massive power displays. "There will be running this series," Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz said.
"For us 0-1, it's like being down 0-1 in the count if you're the batter," Rays reliever J.P. Howell said. "You're not too worried, but at the same time you saw what they have. You've got to prepare and adjust. They're very aggressive on the basepaths. That's something I didn't know about them. And those guys, they battle, it's a different league. Their approaches are just different. It's a feel thing."
8. The in-game music is different here, seemingly younger than many places. Early in the game, it had a club feel. You can tell it's a young team, just by the vibe that permeates into the crowd. There was rapper Too Short, country singer Trace Atkins, an industrial band called Ministry, Aussie band Midnight Oil rings out when Aussie reliever Grant Balfour enters the game, there was the national anthem from the Backstreet Boys -- the only thing missing was New Kids On The Block. By the way, NKOTB drew the largest crowd in the stadium's history. It's not your grandfather's ballpark.
9. Both U.S. presidential candidates know exactly how important baseball is to everyone.
10. You really can win a World Series opener after a long layoff.
11. But don't count on winning often when you are 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
12. Tropicana Field is a fun place to watch the Fall Classic. In the fifth inning, they were having a great time inside the Centerfield Brewhouse, while down the concourse a boy was wailing on baseballs in the Extreme Zone Batting Cage -- a junkyard motif with a clunker car bearing a sign that reads: "RUNS GOOD".
13. Looking ahead is OK as long as you aren't a player. Even though you don't know which of these teams is going to win the World Series, you already can order that team's clubhouse championship gear.
14. Dick Vitale still loves the Rays, bay-bee.
15. Brad Lidge can do pretty much whatever he wants right now. He remains perfect in save situations in 2008. This time it was thanks to his tight slider. In Game 2? "They're gonna go home and watch video, and tomorrow I might face them again, and they might be on my slider better," he said. "So you have to make adjustments. It's mostly the situation of the game that dictates what's going on. I haven't seen 'em, they haven't seen me. Tonight it's sliders, tomorrow it's fastballs if it requires fastballs."
Fittingly, it ends with Lidge. That much we have learned.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.