PHILADELPHIA -- Throughout the World Series, the Phillies have been roundly criticized for an inexplicable inability to produce clutch hits, especially with runners in scoring position.
The numbers were ugly entering Game 3, and they were ugly when it was over. And, apparently, that doesn't matter in the least bit, judging from the 2-1 lead the Phillies took in the best-of-seven series after beating the Rays, 5-4, on Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park.
As if they were playing right along with the story line, the Phillies managed to score the majority of their runs without the benefit of a single runner in scoring position. Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley all contributed solo home runs, while Utley's other run-scoring play came on a groundout to first base -- an RBI, yes, but without a hit, it does not count in the all-important runners-in-scoring-position category.
So it's probably only fitting that when they finally did record a hit with a runner in scoring position, it was not a home run, or a double to the gap, or even a nice textbook base hit up the middle. No, this hit, off the bat of Ruiz, wasn't hit well, it didn't go far -- and it won the game.
Ruiz's goal was to make contact, and he did -- barely. He bounced a grounder down the third-base line, where Rays third baseman Evan Longoria scooped it and made an ill-fated attempt for a basket throw to the plate. Eric Bruntlett scored easily on the game-ending play.
Ruiz was credited with a hit, and thanks to the official scorer's ruling, the Phillies are 2-for-32 with runners in scoring position in the series. They're also two wins away from winning their first World Series in 28 years.
"I was trying to have a good at-bat and at the same time, I was trying to hit the ball to the outfield," Ruiz said.
He added with a self-deprecating grin, "I'll take the hard contact."
GOT YOUR BACK
Chase Utley and Ryan Howard's back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the sixth inning in Game 3 marked the 14th time in World Series history that two teammates have accomplished the feat. The last time came in Game 2 of the 2002 Fall Classic when Reggie Sanders and David Bell both went deep for the Giants vs. the Angels.
So will Howard, whose timing couldn't have been more perfect as he broke out of his homerless drought. He knocked a solo shot off Matt Garza in the sixth inning, ending a 12-game drought that began after he went deep on Sept. 26 against the Nationals.
Back-to-back homers by Howard and Utley in the sixth inning didn't help pad the runners-in-scoring-position numbers. Neither did Ruiz's solo shot off Garza in the second, for that matter. But it did help to inject some life into a sluggish Phillies lineup.
"These guys are good hitters," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "It's like I said the other day, he didn't get the 146 RBIs with somebody giving it to [Howard]. He's a legitimate hitter. He's got stats -- actually the time he's been in the big leagues, nobody in the game could match him.
"And Utley, I don't have to say anything about Utley's hit. He's a tremendous hitter. These guys are good hitters. Do they go over 0-for-4 sometimes? Do they go 0-for-20 sometimes? Yeah. That's baseball."
Howard acknowledged he feels that he's working out of whatever has been dogging him through the postseason, which is good news for Phillies fans, who have watched the burly first baseman drive in five runs all month.
"It wasn't really anything mechanical," Howard said. "It's just seeing the ball and picking up the pitch and just reacting to it. It's been kind of a slow but steady process. I had some good swings out there today and luckily for me was able to get a home run out of it today. I'm feeling pretty good at the plate. It's definitely coming."
The homers by Utley and Howard marked the 14th time teammates have gone back-to-back in a World Series game and the first since Game 2 of the 2002 Fall Classic, when Reggie Sanders and David Bell did so with the San Francisco Giants. No World Series team has ever produced a back-to-back-to-back effort.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.