Commentary

Wake up! This World Series is worth watching

Updated: October 26, 2008, 6:24 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- According to the latest TV ratings, tens of Americans are watching this 104th World Series. That figure includes all Major League Baseball and Fox TV employees, players' families and blood donors killing time during their orange juice recovery period.

MLB and Fox can spin it any way they want, but hardly anybody outside the greater Philadelphia and Tampa area is building his nights (and early mornings, thanks to rain delays and the usual monumentally dumb late starting times) around the Fall Classic. If it were a prime-time TV series and not the World Series, it might be in danger of being canceled.

Once again, MLB builds huge attendance numbers during the regular season but swims with the fishes when it comes to the World Series' TV ratings. Maybe it's because the games end the next day. (Saturday night's 91-minute rain delay meant the Phillies scored the deciding run in their 5-4 victory at 1:47 a.m.) Or because the Series competed for viewers with the Penn State-Ohio State college football matchup Saturday, and will face the NFL and its water pills Monday night. Or because some people would rather flush their eyes with hydrochloric acid than watch baseball.

But whatever excuse they're using to ignore these games, it shouldn't include the Phillies and Rays. They deserve better than irrelevancy and the distinction of drawing the second-lowest rating (for Game 2) in World Series history.

Why watch?

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Because there's only one World Series. Meanwhile, you'll have nine more weeks of NFL regular-season games plus another month's worth of playoffs. And don't even talk to me about college football until the conference championship games start up in early December.

Because Joe Maddon, the Rays' new age manager, wears a Mohawk, called two consecutive suicide squeezes in Game 2, used a five-man infield when the Phillies had the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth in Game 3 and actually said "ameliorate" during his pregame news conference. (It means "to improve." Yeah, I had to look it up.)

Because Charlie Manuel, the Phillies' old-school manager, would rather swallow a wad of chaw than be seen wearing a Mohawk or uttering the word "ameliorate."

Because this has a very good chance of becoming the first six-game World Series since 2003 and the first seven-game Series since 2002.

Because years from now, when Tampa Bay's David Price is in the Hall of Fame, you'll be able to say, "I saw him when he was a hyperventilating rookie reliever."

Because Phillies starter Cole Hamels' changeup is worth TiVoing. Hamels, who is set to pitch again Monday night in Game 5, is 4-0 in these playoffs with 27 strikeouts in 29 innings. Half the fun is watching the Rays guess that he'll throw a fastball instead of that nightmarish changeup.

Because the Rays and their $43.8 million payroll (29th out of 30 teams) could go from worst to world champion.

"I didn't envision 2008,'' Maddon said. "I'm not going to sit here and pretend. I knew we'd be better this year, but to be here today was not part of my original thought of what we could do."

Because Brad Lidge, who struggled during the 2005 postseason and the 2007 regular season, might never blow another save. He's 50 for his past 50 chances dating back to last season.

[+] EnlargeDavid Price
Paul Abell-US PresswireHere's one very good reason to watch this World Series: David Price.
Because Phillies outfielder Pat Burrell, who's third on the team's all-time home run list, might be playing his final games with the organization.

Because it isn't often that a baseball game sounds like a Mississippi State football game. Just go to Tropicana Field and hear the cowbells.

Because Jamie Moyer, at 45 years and 342 days old, finally earned his chance to pitch in a World Series game. The radar gun almost snoozed off as it kept track of Moyer's slow, slow, slower pitches (high of 82 mph) during his 6 1/3 innings of work Saturday night. Moyer, born in nearby Sellersville, Pa., is the real fall classic.

Because Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli, whose injury and disease-plagued career has cost him 493 regular-season games since 2005, is the poster player for perseverance.

Because Game 2 Phillies starter Brett Myers was in the minors four months ago. He began the season as the Phillies' Opening Day starter but was sent down after he built a 5.84 ERA en route to a 3-9 start.

Because Rays Game 3 starter Matt Garza was almost in the minors four months ago. That's what happens when you have anger management issues and you go postal in the dugout. Instead, Garza put a sock in his temper.

Because the Phillies scored the Game 3-winning run after a hit by pitch, a wild pitch, a throwing error, two intentional walks, that five-man infield and an RBI single that traveled about 60 feet. You don't see that every day.

Because you never know when the Phillies' Chase Utley and Ryan Howard will go deep. (They went back-to-back Saturday night.)

Because of Rays center fielder B.J. Upton.

Because the Rays are base kleptomaniacs. Four stolen bases (three by Upton) Saturday evening gave them the big league postseason record (22).

Because although Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura didn't earn the hype of such Japanese imports as Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka and Chicago Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, you can't help but admire him. At the very least, he gives the Rays more bang for their 2.4 million bucks than Dice-K ($8.3 mil) or Fukudome ($7 mil). "Aki is one of the best players we've ever seen," Rays first baseman Carlos Pena said.

Because on Aug. 6, reliever Scott Eyre was designated for assignment by the Chicago Cubs. (Cubs manager Lou Piniella forgot his name and called him "Stevie.'') On Aug. 7, Eyre was traded to the Phillies. Now he's where the Cubs haven't been since 1945: in a World Series.

Because as late as Sept. 10, the Phillies trailed the New York Mets by 3½ games in the NL East and the Milwaukee Brewers by four games in the wild card.

Because there's nothing like listening to Philly fans chant, "E-va! E-va!'' when Rays third baseman Evan Longoria comes to the plate.

Because the first three games have been decided by a grand total of four runs.

Because what else do you have to do at 1:47 a.m.?

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

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