Rays defy baseball logic with Game 2 win
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Someday, many decades from now, historians will look back on the first World Series victory in Tampa Bay Rays history.And when they do, they will recall the events of Thursday evening at Tropicana Field. With voices trembling, they'll be able to sum up those events with one magic word: Huh? We learned last week, in Tampa Bay's stunning ALCS triumph over the Red Sox, that the Rays could score runs with their legs (10 stolen bases). We also learned last week that the Rays could score runs with their thunder (16 homers). What we never learned is that the Rays also could score runs the way they scored them Thursday, in the 4-2 win over the Phillies that evened the 2008 World Series at a win apiece: By making outs. Really. You know, it's a funny thing. We'd be willing to bet that, before Thursday, we lived in a land of 300 million Americans who all believed, as one unified nation, that making outs was the one thing in baseball you would most want to avoid -- with the possible exception of learning that Scott Boras had signed on to represent your cleanup hitter. But then, along came this historic baseball event to teach us that we've had it all wrong -- that we've had it all wrong since birth, in fact.
Outs are good.At least if they're the right kinds of outs. On Thursday, the Rays made all the right outs. Or something like that.
It was all so thrilling, so electrifying, so downright inspirational that Rays manager Joe Maddon admitted he turned to his bench coach, Dave Martinez, and gushed:"This is what we have to emphasize next year in spring training -- scoring runs with outs." Yep, he really said that. And well he should, because it was that kind of night. On one hand, that team the Rays were playing, the Phillies, continued to work harder to avoid scoring runs than any team in modern World Series history. The Phillies are now 1-for-28 with runners in scoring position after the first two games -- the worst two-game RISP batting average (.036) by any World Series team in history.
But on the other hand, while all that clutch ineptitude was going on, the youngest juggernaut in baseball went out and demonstrated that putting those runs on the board doesn't have to be as tough as the Phillies have made it look."We have to play small ball," said the Game 2 winning pitcher, James Shields. "It's the World Series. That's the way you play the game. That's the way you win championships."
To be honest, other ways exist, as the Rays proved in the ALCS. But doing whatever it takes -- that's what wins championships.And if the ultimate definition of "whatever it takes" consists of "flashing the squeeze sign twice, even with Cliff Floyd on third base," it's official: The Rays clearly will do anything to score a run. Because that's what they did with a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning of this game, much to the shock of even their own troops. "To be honest," Pena said, "when I saw that sign, I said, 'Oh, Lord.'" Why would he have felt a need to speak to powers higher than even Joe Maddon about a move like this? Well, for one thing, this team didn't execute a single successful squeeze bunt all season. For another thing, Floyd was the runner on third base. And let's just say that nobody has mistaken him lately for Asafa Powell. "Hey, I'm slow," Floyd said, at his earnest best. "Let's get that straight." Said Shields: "I don't want to say he's as slow as a turtle because he did steal a bag this year. It'll probably be the last stolen base of his career, but he did steal one." So any manager who was willing to give Cliff Floyd the green light to steal a base obviously would be a manager with no fear of giving Jason Bartlett the squeeze sign with Floyd at third base. In fact, Maddon was so willing to give that sign that he gave it twice. The first time, Floyd took off on a suicide squeeze on the first pitch -- but Bartlett fouled off his bunt attempt as Floyd heaved a massive sigh of relief. "I told Cliff after that, 'If he missed that bunt, there's no way you would have been able to stop, right?'" Pena said. "And he said, 'Yeah, man. I'd have had to crash into the catcher. I'd have had to run till they tagged me out." But when he returned to third and caught his breath, what did he discover? That Maddon had given the squeeze sign again, for the second straight pitch -- except this time it was the safety squeeze, meaning he wouldn't have to break unless Bartlett put the bunt down. Asked whether he regarded that second squeeze sign as an endorsement of his wheels, Floyd replied: "You know what? Yeah."
Fortunately, on squeeze attempt No. 2, Bartlett pushed his bunt past the mound, and Floyd rumbled home. (Score one for The Wheels.) And pandemonium reigned in Rays Land.
"That's Joe," Floyd said appreciatively. "He'll do anything to score a run. If I was managing a team, I'd want to manage just like him."It was the first successful squeeze bunt in a World Series game since Jeff Blauser of the Braves laid one down in 1996. But on this day, it fit right into the Rays' mega-small-ball attack. In the first inning, when the Phillies played the infield back after the Rays put runners to second and third with nobody out, Tampa Bay scored twice on ground-ball outs. No team had done that in the same World Series inning since 1923, when the Giants did it against the Yankees. Here's how long ago that was: Casey Stengel scored one of those runs. So, if you're keeping track, that's three runs the Rays scored in this game on balls that never left the ground. Asked who had the better ground game this fall, the Rays or the Buccaneers, Floyd replied, laughing: "I want to say the Bucs. They'd better. They'd better have a better ground game than us." But that Rays ground game is coming in awfully handy. The same team that mashed 16 homers and slugged .508 as a team in the ALCS is batting .207, slugging .276 and has one homer in this World Series -- from a guy (Carl Crawford) who hadn't homered since June. Those funky numbers notwithstanding, though, the Rays are tied in this World Series. And that tells you something about the multidimensional nature of a team that seems to be growing before our eyes.
You'd have thought that after spending a week imitating the '61 Yankees, the Rays would try to pound every ball off the nearest catwalk. Instead, just when you least expect it, they're The Masters of the Productive Out."That's why this is an impressive ballclub," Pena said. "This ballclub understands. That's the coolest thing about this team. This is a very young club. So you'd expect them to get way out of their element trying to [hit the long ball]. But this team doesn't do that. We're selfless. There's 25 of us. Yet we're thinking, 'I don't care about getting the glory right here. I just want to push a run across the plate.'" They pushed four of them across that plate one way or another on Thursday. But it was enough for Shields, who tap-danced through 5 2/3 shutout innings. And it was enough for the astounding David Price, who -- in the ninth major league game of his life -- got the final seven outs in the first World Series win in the history of the franchise. But is that enough to convince America that this Rays team is the real deal? Even Cliff Floyd isn't quite sure of that yet. "But sooner or later, they're going to have to start believing that this is for real," Floyd said. "If this didn't do it, three more games in the win column ought to convince them." Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.
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WORLD SERIES GAME 2: RAYS 4, PHILLIES 2
The Rays took the early lead in Game 2 of the World Series against the Phillies and hung on for a 4-2 win to even the series.
Story | Series page
• Jayson Stark: Rays defy logic in win
• Jerry Crasnick: Phillies eager for home cooking
• Amy K. Nelson: Bartlett's quiet contributions
• Inside Edge reports: Phillies | Rays
• Game 2 blog
• Baseball Tonight Clubhouse: Game 3 preview
• Shields, Rays even Series with Game 2 win
• BBTN breaks down Rays' victory
• James Shields talks about his outing
• B.J. Upton explains Rays do the little things
• John Kruk on Phillies' offensive woes
• Joe Maddon, Charlie Manuel look back on Game 2
• BBTN previews Game 3
• Postgame interviews with Shields, Upton