PHILADELPHIA -- As a rule, the word "pivotal" is overused in describing postseason games. Keeping that in mind, Game 4 of the 2008 World Series will be crucial, critical and absolutely essential, particularly for the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays are down, 2-1. They do not want to be down, 3-1, facing Philadelphia's Cole Hamels in a Game 5. That would be a recipe only for elimination. Hamels is 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA this postseason. He has beaten the Brewers once, the Dodgers twice and the Rays once.
It has been a highly entertaining Series to date; close games, going down to the final pitches, just the thing for October. But it has also been a league role-reversal.
The American League team is supposed to be able to clobber you over the head. The National League team is supposed to be able to make you dizzy with its blinding and incessant speed. The Rays have some power and the Phillies have some speed, but the league roles have been reversed. With solid pitching in both directions, runs become an even more precious commodity than usual. Will the Rays continue to rely on running into runs and will the Phils continue to rely on the long ball?
Stealing four bases on Saturday night in a 5-4 loss, the Rays set a postseason record with 22 stolen bases. The Rays are playing National League ball, small ball, if you will. Of the last eight runs they have scored, only one came as the result of a hit.
The Phillies on the other hand, hit three home runs in Game 3, by Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz. This was the first time a team had hit three home runs in a World Series game since the San Francisco Giants hit three in Game 5 of the 2002 Series.
GAME 4: JUST THE FACTS
Citizens Bank Park, Sunday, 8 p.m. ET
Rays starter: RHP Andy Sonnanstine
2008: 13-9, 4.38 ERA
2008 on road: 6-5, 4.35 ERA
2008 vs. Phillies: Did not face
Career vs. Phillies: Has not faced
2008 postseason: 2-0, 3.46 ERA
Career postseason: 2-0, 3.46 ERA
Phillies starter: RHP Joe Blanton
2008: 9-12, 4.69 ERA
2008 at home: 4-9, 4.31 ERA
2008 vs. Rays: 0-0, 6.00 ERA
Career vs. Rays: 2-3, 6.05 ERA (eight starts)
2008 postseason: 1-0, 3.27 ERA
Career postseason: 1-0, 2.77 ERA
Phillies lead series, 2-1. Eleven of the last 13 teams to hold a 2-1 lead have won the Series.
Did you know? The last time the Phillies were up 2-1 in the World Series was in 1980, the only time they have won the title.
When Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was asked about this Series being a matchup between the Rays' speed and the Phillies' power, he suggested that both teams were capable of producing both.
"When you talk about their speed, when you get [Carl] Crawford and [B.J.] Upton, they can really fly," Manuel said. "When they hit the ball in the infield, they make you hurry. They're quick and they're hard to stop. And also if you look, they've got a lot of switch-hitters in their lineup. You've got to really be careful, especially when you go to the bullpen, how you match up with them because actually they are a hard team to kind of match up to.
"As far as their power, they hit the ball so far in this postseason, they've hit a lot of home runs, they just haven't hit that many against us yet. And hopefully they don't hit any. We're known to hit the ball out of the yard. We score a lot that way. But we can also manufacture runs with [Shane] Victorino and [Jimmy] Rollins and Utley and Jayson Werth. And like when we do, that's when we really put some runs across the board."
While the Phillies are up, 2-1, all three games of this Series could have gone either way. That's part of what has made this competition compelling.
"Yeah, so far it's been good," Manuel said. "We're 2-1 and actually we could have been 3-0 or basically Tampa could have been 3-0. The games have been close, and there's been chances for both teams to win all the games. So far it's been an outstanding Series."
And now, the Rays send Andy Sonnanstine against the Phillies' Joe Blanton in Game 4. The burden is on Sonnanstine to get the Rays in a position to tie the Series, rather than facing elimination while facing Hamels. On the plus side of this situation, Sonnanstine is 2-0 in this postseason, and manager Joe Maddon always has a ready reference for him: "The guy is a winner."
The guy will need to be a winner in Game 4, or the Phillies will be up, 3-1, at home, with Hamels pitching. Yes, this one might be reasonably important.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.