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Game 2 starters can change story

Game 2 starters can change story

ST. PETERSBURG -- As we proceed to Game 2 of the 2008 World Series on Thursday, the Tampa Bay Rays can take heart from one basic baseball fact of life.

Cole Hamels can't pitch every game.

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Hamels was not beatable in the Phillies' 3-2 win in Game 1 on Wednesday night, just as he was not beatable in his first three starts in two National League postseason rounds. He has been the pitcher of the 2008 postseason. But the rest of the Philadelphia Phillies' starters, like the rest of anybody else's starters at this point, are not quite as imposing as Hamels.

This is part of the reason where the Rays have been installed as the favorites in this Fall Classic. Let's face it, being the favorite in most 2008 postseason series hasn't been a lot of fun, but somebody has to fill that role.

The conventional wisdom is that the Tampa Bay rotation has more depth than Philadelphia's. That notion will start to be tested in Game 2 on Thursday night, when the Rays' James Shields faces the Phils' Brett Myers.

The Phillies have already accomplished Goal No. 1 for any team that does not have postseason home-field advantage: They won a road game. This is generally a postseason achievement somewhere between very important and monumental, and the Phils put it in their back pockets at the first opportunity.

On the other hand, the Rays also lost Game 1 of the American League Championship Series at home to Boston, and that didn't exactly derail them for keeps. They have proven to be a resilient group. This is another reason why the oddsmakers liked the Rays coming into this World Series. The past futility of this franchise counts for nothing. The quality of the current Rays is all that matters.

And on paper, their advantage would exist in the second through fourth spots in their postseason rotation -- Shields, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine having the collective edge over Myers, Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton. But the theoretical edge doesn't mean anything unless it is actually demonstrated on the field.

Myers is a case in point, struggling enough that he was sent down to the Minors in July to regain his bearings. His overall numbers don't look good, but his second-half performance was much closer to the level that his considerable talent suggested.

ONE FOR THE ROAD
Six road teams have won Game 1 World Series since the Wild Card era began in 1995.
YearTeamOpponentResult
1995BravesYankeesYankees in 6
1999YankeesBravesYankees in 4
2002GiantsAngelsAngels in 7
2003MarlinsYankeesMarlins in 6
2006CardinalsTigersCardinals in 5
2008PhilliesRays
"Since Brett went to the Minor Leagues and he came back, he's been tremendous," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's one of the reasons that I'm sitting here talking to you today. And he's been just a completely different pitcher."

Shields is "Big Game James," and this would be an ideal time to live up to the nickname.

"I'm the type of pitcher that I want the ball, you know?" he said on Wednesday. "I thrive on that. I thrive on getting the ball, and all our starters do. And our whole pitching staff does. You see David Price that last game [of the ALCS]; he's 23 years old and wants the ball."

The Rays wouldn't be at this level without a superior starting rotation. These starters are not household names throughout North America, only because they haven't been around long enough to gain full-name recognition. This World Series could change that. Their talent is as remarkable as their youth.

"You know, it's almost kind of, to me, it's kind of scary. I'm the oldest pitcher on the [starting] staff; I'm 26 years old," Shields said. "And I don't think a lot of people understand where we've come from and how long we've come along. And it's going to be fun."

This is where the telling point of the competition generally occurs in the postseason. The Rays have to hope that their young pitchers hold up under the intense pressure of the Fall Classic. The Phillies have to hope that their starters all find their best form.

In the other half of the game, the Phillies may find a little more firepower for their Game 2 lineup. With a right-hander going for Tampa Bay, Manuel has several viable options for a left-handed designated hitter, and he can, in fact, go heavier on left-handed hitters in his lineup.

"We've got some options," Manuel said. "We have three left-handed hitters sitting on our bench. We can be strong on our left-handed hitters. If I want to or if I choose, I can probably overload our lineup with left-handed hitters."

Overall, it is a fascinating situation for Game 2. The Phillies have done the essential thing, taking the World Series lead on the road. But the Rays believe that they still have the long-term Fall Classic edge due to the quality of their starting pitching. Like the Brewers and the Dodgers before them, they couldn't solve Hamels. But the Rays' hope is that the subsequent matchups in this World Series will turn in their favor.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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