The 2008 Philadelphia Phillies were an explosive offensive juggernaut that had been playing together for a few years, with most of their key players just entering the prime of their careers.
The previous season of 2007, the club had gotten over a bit of a hump when they ran down the New York Mets in September to take the franchise’ first NL East crown in almost a decade and a half.
For the previous half-dozen seasons, stretching back to the dying days of Veteran’s Stadium and moving on through the 2004 christening of Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies had been consistent winners. However, prior to that ’07 squad, which team leader and shortstop Jimmy Rollins had declared in the beginning were “the team to beat” in the division, the Phils had kept falling a few games short of a postseason berth.
‘J-Roll’ had been around since the turn of the century. He, left fielder Pat Burrell, known since his college days as ‘Pat the Bat’, and pitcher Brett Myers were the lineup’s still-young senior citizens and cornerstones.
A trio of even younger players had come along over the previous 2-3 years, and were beginning to emerge as superstars in their own right. Together they would help supply much of the final push towards an actual world championship.
Cole Hamels was a tall, lanky lefthander with a Bugs Bunny changeup. “Hollywood”, as he would become known for his outward cool, calm demeanor and movie star good looks, was one of the game’s best young starting pitchers.
Closer Lidge and catcher Ruiz were an important combo for the 2008 Phillies as the World Series opened.Chase Utley was a fiery, supremely talented, athletic 2nd baseman who may have hailed from the same southern California as Hamels, but who played the game with an open intensity and passion that all of Philly’s favorite pro athletes throughout the city’s sporting history have possessed. Utley, baptized as “The Man” for a particular hustling play by beloved broadcaster Harry Kalas, was just that to the Phillies’ fan base.
Ryan Howard was ‘The Big Piece’ as the dynamic bat in the middle of the lineup. The most feared slugger in the game, the 2005 NL Rookie of the Year and 2006 NL Most Valuable Player was at the height of his awesome power. Howard would become the 2nd greatest home run hitter in franchise history, behind only Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt.
The homegrown core of the team also included hard-throwing setup man Ryan Madson. A converted righthanded starter, Madson proved an electric shutdown arm for the Phillies in the 8th inning as the final component in the team’s “Bridge to Lidge” bullpen that year.
That phrase referred to closer Brad Lidge, one of the best in the game, imported via trade from a Houston Astros team that he had helped get to the 2005 World Series. “Lights Out” Lidge would go a perfect 48 for 48 in Save opportunities that season.
Other key players brought in to help push the club forward were right fielder Jayson Werth and center fielder Shane Victorino. Both were talented all-around ballplayers who had been underestimated by their previous organizations, and who would each become pivotal, productive All-Star caliber players with the Phillies.
Carlos Ruiz was an up-and-coming, defense-first catcher who was getting his first shot that year as a starter. Pedro Feliz was signed as a free agent to provide stability and a veteran presence at 3rd base. He also happened to be one of the best defensive players at ‘the hot corner’ in the game at that time.
The ageless lefty Moyer, a Philly area native, was an integral part of the ’08 rotation.Ageless lefthander and local hero Jamie Moyer, trade deadline acquisition righty Joe Blanton, and the homegrown Kyle Kendrick had all played key roles in the pitching rotation. Relievers J.C. Romero, Clay Condrey, Chad Durbin, and Scott Eyre joined Madson and Lidge in a strong bullpen.
The bench had versatile, mentally tough pieces with super pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs, longball threat Matt Stairs, infielder Eric Bruntlett, outfielder Geoff Jenkins, and “The 34-Year Old Rookie” feel good story, catcher Chris Coste.
This talented group was led by a hitting guru named Charlie Manuel, who had managed the mid-late 1990’s Cleveland Indians powerhouse team. ‘Uncle Charlie’ had been written off on his hiring a couple of years earlier as a country bumpkin by many fans and some in the media. But he proved to be a perfect fit for this group, building a strong rapport with the players, teaching them as much about being men as he did about the game of baseball.
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These were the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies who again held off the Mets in September to win a second consecutive NL East crown. They plowed through the Milwaukee Brewers and hired-gun ace C.C. Sabathia in the NLDS, and then overcame hired-gun Manny Ramirez and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS to reach the franchise’ first World Series since the 1993 ‘Macho Row’ team had electrified the town.
With all their talent and experience, those Phillies were still somehow considered as underdogs to the young Tampa Bay Rays, who most baseball experts saw as the up-and-coming future power in the game. Led by offbeat manager Joe Maddon, the Rays had rallied past the defending world champions and their AL East rival Boston Red Sox to reach this point.
But perhaps more of a hurdle than navigating the Rays’ athletic lineup would be producing against their talented pitching staff. Featuring arms such as Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza, Troy Percival, Grant Balfour, and recent draftee David Price, the Tampa Bay pitching was highly regarded.
This was the setup to the next installment in our TBOH Phillies Fall Classics: the 2008 World Series, which would begin indoors on Wednesday night, October 22nd at Tampa’s Tropicana Field in front of a crowd of more than 40,000 fans.
On the mound to start this pivotal game, it would be a matchup between two of baseball’s most talented young lefthanders in Hamels and Kazmir, both just 24 years of age.
For the Phillies, Hamels was already the best pitcher on the staff. An emerging ace, he had already come up huge in this postseason with a 3-0 record, including wins in Games One and Five of the NLCS.
Kazmir was already a 2-time AL All-Star who had started Game Two of both the ALDS and ALCS, each wins for the Rays, and had pitched well in a tough Game Six loss to Boston in the ALCS.
Hamels, just 24-years old, was the lefty ace of the Phillies staff, and would to undefeated in the ’08 postseason.The Phillies would strike the first blow, and it would be a big one. After Werth worked Kazmir for a one-out walk on a full count pitch, Utley stepped to the plate. ‘The Man’ delivered on his nickname once again, ripping a two-run home run to put the Phils on top by 2-0.
In the top of the 4th, Victorino and Feliz led off with back-to-back base hits. When Coste, who was serving as the DH for Hamels in the American League park, grounded softly to first base, both runners advanced into scoring position. A ground out to shortstop by Ruiz followed, scoring ‘The Flyin’ Hawaiian’ Victorino with a run that made it a 3-0 game.
Meanwhile, Hamels was benefiting from a pitcher’s best friend, the doubleplay ball. After allowing a leadoff single to the first batter of the game, a doubleplay immediately erased that before it could become a threat. Then with one out in the bottom of the 3rd, two singles surrounding a walk had loaded the bases. But yet another doubleplay ended that very real threat.
Now in the bottom of the 4th, trailing by 3-0, the Rays would finally break through. With two outs and nobody on, it appeared as if Hamels was getting through another shutout inning. But then Crawford drilled a solo homer out to right center, and the Phillies’ lead was down to 3-1.
A similar scene played out in the bottom of the 5th to draw the Rays even closer. Again with two outs and nobody on base, they broke through. This time, Hamels walked shortstop Jason Bartlett, who promptly stole 2nd base. When 2nd baseman Akinori Iwamura followed with a double, Bartlett came around to score the run that made it a 3-2 ball game.
That score held through the 6th inning, with both starters still in the game. Kazmir was replaced by J.P. Howell in the 7th as the first of four relievers who Maddon would parade out to hold the Phillies’ bats at bay over the balance of the contest.
Hamels battled through the 7th before yielding to Madson in the 8th inning. The righty mowed the Tampa bats down in order, and this World Series opener moved to the top of the 9th as a taut, one-run affair.
The Phillies put serious pressure on the Rays’ bullpen in their half, but left runners at 2nd and 3rd, and the game moved to the bottom of the 9th inning with the home team needing a run to tie, two to win. Manuel then made the obvious move to Lidge, who would have to face the heart of the Tampa order.
The righty closer would live up to every bit of his ‘Lights Out’ nickname. Lidge struck out Pena on three pitches to start it off, then got Longoria on four to record the 2nd out. Finally, Crawford popped a full-count offering to Feliz in foul territory, and the 3rd baseman easily squeezed the final out.
The Phillies had done what every team opening a best-of-seven games series on the road looks to do as a minimum: win one game on the road. It was hard fought, and would be the only one they would win in Tampa. But it would also prove to be the only one they would need to win in the Sunshine State.
Following one more game indoors, a Rays’ win to even the series, the World Series and this Phillies Fall Classics series would move north, to the far less favorable late-October confines and weather of Philadelphia.