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Baseball's best to vie for elusive crown

Baseball's best to vie for elusive crown

ST. PETERSBURG -- The World Series comes to Tropicana Field for the first time on Wednesday night.

And as Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins so aptly put it as both teams worked out under the dome on Tuesday: "It's just another game -- in October."

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Game 1 features a battle of 24-year-old left-handers: Scott Kazmir for the Rays and Cole Hamels for the Phillies.

But here is the sub-text:

Before the best-of-seven series begins here it should be noted that this is the first time for the Phils in the World Series since 1993 and the first ever for the Rays, leaving Seattle, Washington/Texas and Montreal/Washington as the only three of Major League Baseball's 30 teams to never make it this far.

The Phils have won it all once in this, the 126th season of the franchise's history. That was in 1980, when they defeated the Kansas City Royals, then an 11-year-old expansion franchise. Coincidentally, the Rays this year are an expansion franchise, finishing their 11th season.

"You've got a point there," said Dave Montgomery, who was with the Phils in 1980 and is the team's president and general partner today. "I hope things turn out the same way as they did in 1980."

The Rays, of course, weren't even a twinkle in anyone's eye back then.

In this, their first winning season, they knocked off the Yankees to win a playoff spot and the Red Sox to win the tough American League East. They then vanquished Boston again in a seven-game AL Championship Series that ended on Sunday.

The young team was all smiles in the clubhouse on Tuesday with the players' biggest week of baseball still ahead of them.

But the battle they fought all season seems to have girded them for the World Series.

Tale of the Tape: Game 1 Starters
Phillies
Cole Hamels
Rays
Scott Kazmir
2008 REGULAR SEASON
Overall33 GS, 14-10, 3.09 ERA, 53 BB, 196 K27 GS, 12-8, 3.49 ERA, 70 BB, 166K
Key stat1.082 WHIP (first in NL)4.14 BB/9 IP (3rd most in AL, min 150 IP)
POSTSEASON
20083 GS, 3-0, 1,233 GS, 1-0, 4.02
Career4 GS, 3-1, 1.883 GS, 1-0, 4.02
AT TROPICANA FIELD
2008NR14 GS, 8-2, 2.90
CareerNR60 GS, 21-14, 3.11
AGAINST THIS OPPONENT
2008NRNR
Career1 GS, 0-1, 12.271 GS, 1-0, 3.60
Why he'll win8-3, 2.12 ERA in last 13 starts (incl. playoffs)15-9, 2.90 ERA in career on five days' rest
Pitcher beware3-5, 5.62 lifetime vs. AL teamsAllowed 18 HRs in 85 IP since All-Star Game (incl. playoffs)
Bottom lineReady for his close-upSeeking Game 5 repeat

"We've got a lot of fight," said right-handed starter Matt Garza, who defeated the Red Sox twice in the ALCS and was named MVP of that series. "We don't quit. We don't back down. We're resilient. We don't take no for an answer."

Said rookie third baseman Evan Longoria: "It's so fortunate to be here with a team that's been as bad for so long. I'm excited to be here in this spot."

The Phils, who easily defeated the Brewers and Dodgers in the first two playoff rounds, find themselves at a strategic disadvantage as they go into the first two games in an AL park.

By rule, both teams have to install a designated hitter in the lineup and as of Tuesday's workout, Phils manager Charlie Manuel said he hadn't determined who would get the job on Wednesday night, let alone Thursday night. The National League team, of course, is accustomed to playing almost all of its games with the pitcher hitting.

"I haven't decided on the lineup, until tomorrow," Manuel said.

During six road Interleague games this past June at Oakland and Texas, Manuel used left-handed hitters Geoff Jenkins, Ryan Howard and Greg Dobbs as his DHs. They went a combined 2-for-24 as the Phils dropped four of the six games.

When Howard DHed, right-handed-hitting Eric Bruntlett played first base. Manuel likely will decide among Bruntlett and fellow right-handed-hitters Chris Coste and So Taguchi against the left-handed Kazmir.

"Most of the year when we play and stuff, I haven't used too many left-handed hitters who are not in our regular lineup, like [Chase] Utley and those guys," he said. "They were in the lineup most of the time and I haven't used Dobbs or Matt [Stairs] against left-handed pitchers. I'd be more inclined to probably throw a right-handed hitter in there."

The other issue for the Phils is the longish layoff since the end of the National League Championship Series at Los Angeles last Wednesday night. It'll be seven days of rest before the first pitch of the World Series is thrown.

Last year, the Rockies were off eight days between the NLCS and the World Series. They were swept by the Red Sox.

Two years ago, the Tigers had seven days to wait after sweeping the ALCS before the start of the World Series. They lost to the Cardinals in five games.

Clint Hurdle, the Rockies manager, said in retrospect that the layoff was an impossible hurdle to overcome.

Enter the Phillies, who are attempting to avoid a similar fate.

"We're definitely trying to stay focused and there's a big gap in time," Manuel said. "And it's very important that we keep our timing, not only hitting, but also running the bases, playing in the field. We feel like we've practiced enough and we have the right mind-set. You can always argue that point if something happens and we don't win. But at the same time, I think we're ready to go."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["world_series" ] }
{"content":["world_series" ] }