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Monday, October 27, 2008

Off the TePoel

Phive Reasons I Chose the Phillies

Heading into the World Series, the Tampa Bay Rays had become America's team. The can do kids just knocked around the reigning champs. Ernie Johnson, Jr. of TBS had just concluded his piercing interview with ALCS MVP Matt Garza, who at 24 is the youngest pitcher in Major League history to win such an award. Johnson's final question: "Matt, what was on your iPod before the game?" Garza amazingly left baseball fans with this insight; I summarize: "Yeah, I was listening to Tupac. He's the man, and that's all I can say." The end.

Really? That's it? Nothing like, "Well, I was listening to Tupac, but you know Ernie, I'm really proud of this team and what we've accomplished. We'll celebrate tonight, but after that there's a tough team over in Philadelphia and we've gotta get ready for them in what should be a great World Series, and hopefully we'll be bringing home one more trophy." Nah. 

Garza did admit earlier in the interview that he hoped he had just won Game 7 of the World Series, but the ALCS would have to do. Besides, they just beat the Red Sox, their season long nemesis since brawls busted out in Spring Training. The Rays had home field advantage and David Price. Certainly the National League opponent would be a pushover.

Without further ado, here are my Phive reasons for choosing the Phils:

1. Maturity

The Phillies were trounced last year by the Rockies in the ALDS. Ryan Howard was pitiful, Chase Utley went silent, and 2007 MVP Jimmy Rollins was nowhere to be found. 3 and out. Not this year. The Phillies handled the Brewers with ease, and quickly blew out the sparks of a Dodgers comeback in the NLCS when veteran Matt Stairs hit a clutch 2 run homer to bring the Phils within one win of the Dance. Most importantly, they rested and remained focused during their extended wait for Game 1. (Honorable Mention: Jamie Moyer in Game 3. He was up way past his bedtime, but what a performance.)

2. Immaturity

The Rays have been impressive all season long. Who seriously thought they would win the division after tailing off heading into the all-star break? Then they showed incredible mettle by sustaining their throne through key injuries down the stretch to Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford. The ALDS win over the White Sox was to be expected, and their trouncing of the Red Sox in games 3 and 4 and two-thirds of 5 was almost a ceremonial and symbolic changing of the guards in the AL East. But after the collapse of the bullpen in game 5, the pitching held on while the bats produced just enough to prevent another unbelievable Boston comeback. But this is where the accolades end. Longoria and Pena, through the three games (and have been pitiful in game 4) are a combined 0 for 22. And what happened to the Rays' defense? That too, has gone to the wayside.

3. Cole Hamels

This man has been insane all postseason. He is young too, but he has the maturity some Rays may lack. In a press conference leading up to the World Series Hamels was focused on pitching and nothing else. The hoopla surrounding the Series was just that to the southpaw, distractions and shenanigans. His job didn't change - the only difference is the extra attention from the media and friends and family. As a baseball purist, I loved it when he told his family they could celebrate during the holidays, but now was no time for show-and-tell. "So this is where Ryan Howard sits...no, he can't get us any free Subway, Dad."

4. MVPs

The Phillies are loaded with them. Howard in 2006. Rollins last year. Utley, arguably the first-half MVP and Howard is deserving of another one in 2008. The Rays had too many opportunities to win Game 1 and they didn't do it. These MVPs were anything but in the first two games of the World Series, as the Phillies went something terrible like 1-31 with runners in scoring position. Horrendous, and the Rays let them get away with it, and you knew it wouldn't last. Howard is hot, Rollins is rolling, and Utley is ubiquitous(ly on base? that's weak). Either way, these MVPs have been supported by the late-blooming Pat Burrell and Jayson Werth (who?) and America is now seeing just how much these guys can hit. 

5. Bullpens

Ryan Madson and JC Romero setting up Brad Lidge. A winning formula right there who had shown no signs of slowing down. Meanwhile, the Rays bullpen had done an excellent job piecing it together to get to the World Series. But once they made it there, you had the feeling the starters were only going to give them 5 or 6 innings each night and eventually these guys would get lit up as they did against Boston in game 5 of the ALCS. Without a closer it's awfully tough to win in the postseason. The bullpen has become critical to Major League Baseball. The Rays' have a great bullpen, that's why they're in the World Series. The Phils are just better.

After all this I'm left wondering why I thought it would take the Phillies 7 games. Cole Hamels closes it out tomorrow night. And if Ryan Howard hits another homerun, he might steal away the MVP.

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