After the Philadelphia Phillies had gotten off to a good start by taking the opener of the 2008 World Series against the host Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in a tight 3-2 decision, the host Rays evened things up, holding off the Phils for a 4-2 win in Game Two.
With their backs to the wall in that 2nd game, Tampa had scratched out four early runs off Phillies’ starter Brett Myers. Holding a 4-0 lead, Rays’ manager Joe Maddon turned to rookie lefty David Price with two outs in the top of the 7th.
Just a year earlier, Tampa had made Price the top overall pick in the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft. He quickly rose to become the best pitching prospect in the game, and made his big league debut that year on September 14th, pitching in five games down the stretch as Tampa held off the Boston Red Sox to win their first AL East crown by two games.
In the ALCS, Price had pitched in three games. He got the win in Game Two with a clutch 11th inning performance as Tampa tied that series with the Red Sox. Then in the decisive 7th game, Price pitched 1.1 innings to get the Save in a dramatic 3-1 win that moved the 1998 expansion franchise into their first-ever World Series appearance.
The Phils would get to the talented rookie with a two-out solo home run by Eric Bruntlett to cut the lead to 4-1, and then put two of the first three runners on in the 9th, scoring another run on a Tampa error to make it 4-2. But Price had toughened up, striking out Chase Utley swinging and getting Ryan Howard on an easy grounder to 2nd to tie up the World Series at a game apiece.
This was the setup to the pivotal Game Three as the 2008 World Series headed north from the indoor climate-controlled dome of the Trop in sunny Florida to the late October cold of Citizens Bank Park.
For Game Three, Maddon would send out 24-year old righthander Matt Garza. Considered one of the game’s better up-n-coming pitchers, Garza had appeared in the two previous seasons with his original team, the Minnesota Twins.
In late November of 2007, Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett had been dealt to Tampa as part of a 6-player deal, with Delmon Young highlighting the package back to the Twins. In his first full season, Garza had gone 11-9 over 30 starts with the Rays.
At the polar opposite end of the age spectrum, Phillies’ skipper Charlie Manuel was opting for his 45-year old lefty, the apparently ageless Jamie Moyer. A local product who had played his college ball at Saint Joseph’s University in Philly during the 1980’s, Moyer was in his 23rd MLB season, his 3rd with the Phils after coming in a late-season 2006 trade with the Seattle Mariners.
In 2008, Moyer had really seemed to discover the Fountain of Youth. That year he fashioned a 16-7 record over 33 starts in which he tossed 196.1 innings with a solid 3.71 ERA. He was the definition of a grizzled veteran.
Jimmy Rollins got the rally towel-waving crowd whipped up into an early frenzy with a leadoff single in the bottom of the 1st. That frenzied crowd let out a roar when Jayson Werth followed with a walk, and then a Garza wild pitch allowed the runners to move up to 2nd and 3rd as the heart of the Phillies’ order was due up.
Garza settled down admirably in the madhouse. Rollins scored when Utley grounded out to 1st base as Werth moved to 3rd base. But then Garza struck Howard out swinging and retired Pat Burrell on a fly to center. The Phillies had a 1-0 lead, but Garza and the Rays had dodged a major bullet.
Tampa would even it up right away in the top of the 2nd inning. Carl Crawford led off with a double, then stole 3rd base with one out, and scored when right fielder Gabe Gross followed with a sacrifice fly to center.
Garza quickly retired the first two Phillies’ batters in the bottom of the 2nd, but then catcher Carlos Ruiz ripped a solo homer to put the Phils back on top by 2-1. That would remain the score as the veteran Moyer and the young Garza battled into the bottom of the 6th inning.
In that home 6th, the crowd would get not just one, but two opportunities to roar again. Both Utley and Howard, the Phillies’ #3 and 4 hitters in their batting order, slammed solo homers to start the inning, pushing the lead up to 4-1.
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Moyer wouldn’t be able to hold that lead fully. In the top of the 7th, the Rays immediately began a rally that would drive him from the game. Crawford got it started again, this time with a perfectly placed drag-bunt single between the pitcher’s mound and 1st base. Tampa catcher Dioner Navarro then doubled to left field, and Gross followed with an RBI ground out to cut the Phillies lead down to 4-2.
That was all for Moyer, who threw 96 pitches over his 6.1 innings, striking out five and walking one while allowing just five hits. Chad Durbin came on in relief. He got Bartlett to ground out to shortstop, but Navarro came in to score on the play, cutting the lead down to a slim 4-3 margin.
With both teams into their bullpens into the top of the 8th, Manuel went to his setup man, righthander Ryan Madson, who allowed a leadoff single to the speedy B.J. Upton. The Rays’ 23-year old center fielder, who is now known as ‘Melvin Upton’, had stolen 44 bases during the regular season. With one out, Upton stole 2nd base, then 3rd base, and scored the tying run when Ruiz threw the ball away on the latter.
The Phillies’ late-inning lefty, J.C. Romero, retired Tampa in order in the top of the 9th, and the two teams moved into the bottom of the 9th with the game knotted at 4-4 and the World Series tied at a game apiece.
Maddon had brought in reliever J.P. Howell in the 8th, and the tough righty had struck out two batters surrounding a big pick-off of Werth to keep the Phillies off the board after the Rays had evened the score. Still in the game to start the 9th, Howell hit Bruntlett on a 2-1 pitch to put the potential winning run aboard.
That prompted Maddon to make the move to his fiery Australian reliever Grant Balfour. After getting ahead of Shane Victorino with a first strike, Balfour uncorked a wild pitch. Bruntlett took off for 2nd base, and Navarro retrieved and threw to try to nail him. Instead, the throw went wild, allowing Bruntlett to advance all the way to 3rd base.
Now the Phillies had that potential game-winner just 90 feet away with nobody out. Maddon chose to make the strategic decision to intentionally walk Victorino. When Manuel sent up lefty Greg Dobbs to pinch-hit for Pedro Feliz, Maddon had him intentionally walked as well to load the bases.
The plan, of course, was to set up a force out at any base, including home plate, as the slow-footed Ruiz came to the plate. Balfour and ‘Chooch’ battled to a 2-2 count. Then with the crowd on its feet and roaring with every pitch, Ruiz topped a slow roller towards 3rd baseman Evan Longoria.
The Rays’ star raced in to field the ball as Bruntlett broke well from 3rd base and got a great jump towards the plate. Longoria fielded and threw home as Bruntlett slid in, but the throw went high.
The throw wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Bruntlett’s great jump and the slow speed of the ball off the bat combined to give the Phillies’ baserunner an advantage that the Rays’ 3rd baseman could not overcome. As Bruntlett slid in safe with the game-winning run, teammates mobbed both he and Ruiz, and the Phillies had not only a 5-4 walkoff win, but more importantly had pushed ahead by two games to one in the World Series.
The two teams would have to quickly recover from the emotionally draining game, as the next installment in this Fall Classics series would come the following night. That Sunday night in South Philly would contain none of the drama of this one.