Commentary

Price could play a key role in resumption of Game 5

Originally Published: October 29, 2008
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

After seven months and 2,461 11/18 games, a season that began more than 6,000 miles away in Japan may come down to just three and a half innings. The World Series is in uncharted territory -- will they sing the national anthem again when the game resumes? -- and apart from the weather, the question is: Who, if anyone, gained an advantage with the suspended game Monday night?

The tendency is to say Tampa Bay, because the Rays are trailing badly in the Series and anything out of the ordinary adds an unknown element to what seemed like a predictable equation. "I think us coming back like we did and sitting on it for a day or two possibly could weigh in our favor a little bit. I'm not sure yet," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "But I think the most important part of it is that both bullpens are rested. There's no telling what's going to happen at this point."

[+] EnlargeRich Kane
Rich Kane/US PresswireCarlos Pena's second hit of the World Series brought home the tying run in the top of the sixth inning on Monday night.
As the World Series boldly advances where no series has gone before, who has the advantage, the Rays or the Phillies? Let's take a look.

The most obvious factors favor Philadelphia. Lost amid all the angst and wailing over the way the game was stopped after Tampa Bay tied it in the heavy rain are the very significant facts that the Phillies hold a 3-1 Series lead, they are playing at home and, most importantly, thanks to the suspension, they have four at-bats to score a run to Tampa Bay's three.

Those are indisputable and big advantages for the Phillies. The remaining advantages are mere conjecture.

What could favor Tampa Bay is the team's possible secret weapon: rookie David Price. Maddon declined to say whom he would pitch when the game resumes, other than saying he wouldn't use one of his starters. He could stick with right-hander Grant Balfour, who is currently in the game. He could go with lefty reliever J.P. Howell. But this also could be a perfect situation for Price. It allows him to warm up well before the game as if he were the starting pitcher, the role to which he is most accustomed. He potentially would need to go only four innings, which benefits him because of his lack of regular starting work since his September callup. And the southpaw would get to face Philly's lefties, 3-4 hitters Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, as well as pinch hitters Greg Dobbs and Matt Stairs, with his overpowering fastballs and nasty sliders on what is predicted to be a cold night that will leave batters' hands stinging in pain.

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There also is the possibility that the heart of Tampa Bay's order, Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria, finally woke up during Game 5. It was unlikely that the two would go a combined 0-for-40 for the World Series, and after going hitless in the first four games, Pena and Longoria each had a run-scoring hit Monday. Does that mean they're swinging better again, or was the law of averages merely catching up with them? We'll see when the game resumes.

"Evan and Carlos had really good at-bats tonight," Maddon said after the game. "We were talking about that, just getting back into their zone. I know they feel better about themselves right now, and confidence is really a wondrous thing in regards to us humans. Now that they have it back, there's no telling what they're going to do. I thought they had a better look about them today. It's something to look forward to for us."

The game will start in the bottom of the sixth inning with Cole Hamels scheduled to bat for the Phillies. Despite some speculation that Hamels could remain in the game because it might be his day to throw on the side, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel insisted that will not happen (Hamels would be available to start a possible Game 7, though). Manuel said he will decide on his pinch hitter when he sees whether Maddon keeps Balfour in the game, and then go to his bullpen, which has been pitching very well.

It may seem as if the Rays have some momentum on their side, but in baseball, momentum is only as good as your next starting pitcher. Or in this case, your next reliever.

"I think the way it sets up right now is, we've got a good bullpen, and I feel like we've got 12 outs and they have nine coming," Manuel said. "And I feel like we feel like we're strong and we can win, and we're going to be ready to play the game."

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com