When the first round of the MLB playoffs ended, the drumbeat for a Red Sox-Dodgers World Series began. Two storied franchises in two huge markets. The Red Sox versus Joe Torre, and Derek Lowe, and Nomaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh. And of course, the Red Sox versus Manny. This was going to be a World Series for the ages, we were told. All the ingredients were in place.
AP Photo/Mike Carlson
Did we expect this? Of course not. And that's part of the fun.
Well, we got our World Series for the ages, all right. But the Red Sox and Dodgers are playing golf, and Manny has been strapped to a chair, "A Clockwork Orange"-style, forced to watch dollar-sign images on a big screen until Scott Boras has successfully brainwashed him into demanding a $700 billion
Instead, it's the Phillies and Rays who stand poised to deliver one of the most entertaining World Series in baseball history. Who cares if the TV ratings won't be as high as they would have been for Red Sox-Dodgers. Here at Page 2, we're fired up to see two exciting teams do battle.
In honor of the Rays' improbable 31-game jump in the standings and No. 32 Steve "Lefty" Carlton, the greatest Phillies pitcher of all time, here are our top 31½ reasons to be excited about the World Series.
31½. Fox doesn't have the rights to "The Steve Harvey Show."
31. The Phillies' Game 3 starter made his major league debut when the Rays' two star rookies were less than a year old. Also, Jamie Moyer will be making the first World Series start of his 22-year career.
30. The Rays' hopefully-by-now-deposed closer is a four-alarm fire waiting to happen. If Dan Wheeler pitches in any meaningful situations, duck and take cover in the bleachers.
29. Because the Phillies have won fewer World Series titles than the following teams: The cursed Cubs, the formerly cursed White Sox, the no-winning-record-in-16-years Pirates, the expansion Blue Jays, and the far more recent expansion Marlins.
28. Drink three beers, then stare at the Phillie Phanatic in HD for 15 seconds. You'll see.
27. The fastest player on either team is a fan of Howard Zinn books.
26. There's a chance -- albeit slim -- that the World Series will be decided by a popup that hits a catwalk at the Trop, is ruled fair and causes mass hysteria among nine fielders trying to catch the ricochet.
25. If the two teams brawl, or if the Rays win it all, nobody does a better job of sprinting out of the dugout to tackle someone than Jonny Gomes.
24. Let's see if Jimmy Rollins will make any bold predictions, be the third-best player on his own team, then get an MVP award when the Phillies win because he "backed it up."
23. Which Grant Balfour will show up: The shut-down stopper with an unhittable fastball, or the guy who painfully lives up to his last name?
22. Can exorcising the devil help win a championship? We'll find out.
AP Photo/Steve Nesius
Joe Maddon's press conferences are appointment viewing.
21. There's a better-than-even chance you'll hear Joe Maddon use one of the following words on camera: "ubiquitous" (cowbells at the Trop), "lugubrious" (how the Rays left Red Sox fans Sunday night) or "9=8ulous" (definition pending).
20. J.P. Howell, the most successful Howell we've seen on TV since these two.
19. Ryan Howard, one of only two players in baseball who's a threat to hit four homers or strike out four times every game he plays. (Guess the other and win a Jason Tyner bobblehead!)
18. To see which Rays team shows up: The regular-season squad with the best defense in baseball, or the one that started chucking throws into the third row of seats against the Red Sox.
17. Don Zimmer interviews.
16. Pat Burrell: Lady-killer, or unintentionally hilarious? You decide.
15. Carlos Pena, who's gone from minor league free agent to the face of a franchise in less than two years.
14. Rocco Baldelli: From the next DiMaggio, to disabled-list regular, to nearly dropping out of baseball, to playoff hero.
13. Will the Flyin' Hawaiian anger up another team's entire fan base?
12. David Price coming in for the eighth and ninth with his mid-90s fastball and vicious slider.
11. Brad Lidge coming in for the eighth and ninth with his mid-90s fastball, vicious slider, and Albert Pujols-related demons 99 percent exorcised.
10. Yankees payroll: $207 million. Red Sox payroll: $133 million. Rays payroll: $43 million.
9. On a team that might produce three straight NL MVP winners, Chase Utley is the best Phillie of them all.
8. Matt Stairs, the no-nonsense Canadian who admits he swings for a homer every time up, and says he'd rather score a goal in the Stanley Cup Finals than hit a game-winning homer in the League Championship Series. Stairs is also the author of my favorite quote of the season. After hitting his game-winning homer in Game 4 against the Dodgers, a reporter asked him about his teammates' reception for him after he'd circled the bases: "Getting your [butt] hammered by guys, there's no better feeling," Stairs said.
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
Don't know much about Cole Hamels? Well you should, and you will soon.
7. Cole Hamels, baseball's most underrated ace.
6. Evan Longoria, just a rookie, already a cornerstone player.
5. By this time next week, B.J. Upton may have broken every playoff hitting record in existence.
4. The director of pro scouting for the Phillies, also a former general manager for Tampa Bay, drafted Carl Crawford, James Shields, Andy Sonnanstine and Upton, traded for Scott Kazmir, drafted the players used to acquire Dioner Navarro (Toby Hall), J.P. Howell (Joey Gathright), Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett (Delmon Young), and signed Danys Baez, the player dealt for Edwin Jackson.
That's right, it's Chuck LaMar!
3. Seventh inning, series on the line. Charlie Manuel strolls to the mound to talk to his tiring starter, a shot at redemption staring him in the face.
2. No team in major U.S. team sports history has ever gone from having the worst record in the league one year to winning a championship the next. Four more wins and the Rays would rank among the biggest miracle teams of all time.
1. Philadelphia sports fans are long overdue for some good news. Joe Carter versus Mitch Williams. Eric Lindros' career. A string of lousy Sixers teams. The freakin' Eagles. This city has suffered through a quarter-century of sports atrocities. Philly is due.