PHILADELPHIA -- Winning a World Series is supposed to be an extraordinarily difficult task. But the current situation of the Tampa Bay Rays takes this concept into another realm of difficulty.
With a 10-2 loss to the Phillies on Sunday night, the Rays fell behind, 3-1, in the 2008 Series. The lessons of history in these circumstances are not at all optimistic for the Rays.
The Rays are the 43rd team to fall behind, 3-1, in the World Series. Only five since 1925 have come back to win. The most recent team to achieve this comeback was the Kansas City Royals in 1985 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
But it is more difficult than even the historical numbers indicate. That is because the Rays must face Philadelphia's Cole Hamels in Game 5 at Citizens Bank Park. And Hamels has been the closest thing this postseason has had to a transcendent figure. Maybe he is better than close. Maybe he is transcendent. He is 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA this October.
"Hamels has been tremendous," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "And what do you want me to say? I say the same thing over and over about him. Every time you hand him the ball, you expect to win the game.
"I think his poise and his focus and his determination plays a big part in who he is and how he pitches. Cole Hamels goes out there and you can tell, he can smell a win and he's going to get you there. And he'll give you everything he's got. And basically that's what I like about it. I mean, you can walk out there and he knows I think he knows just about how far he's going to go. And he has a good feel for pitching. But most of all I like his focus and his determination and his coolness.
"When I send Cole Hamels up to the mound I expect to look good," Manuel added with a smile. "Give me five Cole Hamels and four [Brad] Lidges in the bullpen, I'll be very good."
Hamels' coolness under pressure is becoming legendary. It's not a pose, it's not an act, it's part of his makeup. Like his talent, it is a singular quality.
"With going out there in the playoffs and this tremendous experience, and for me I'm going to cherish this moment, but I think I have to kind of push it aside and know that I need to get the job done, instead of really getting overly excited about where I am and what I'm doing," Hamels said. "I know I'm going to have many, many years to really look back on it and really, I guess, get excited and understand what I'm doing right now, because truly, I think a lot of players say, you're just kind of numb in this sort of moment, and you just kind of go through the motions because you've worked so hard day in and day out that you're mentally ready and you're capable of doing this.
GAME 5: JUST THE FACTS
Citizens Bank Park, tonight, 8 p.m. ET
Rays starter: LHP Scott Kazmir
2008: 12-8, 3.49 ERA
2008 on road: 4-6, 4.10 ERA
2008 vs. Phillies: 0-1, 4.50 ERA
Career vs. Phillies: 1-1, 4.09 ERA (two starts)
2008 WS vs. Phillies: 0-1, 4.50 ERA
2008 postseason: 1-1, 4.15 ERA (four starts)
Career postseason: 1-1, 4.15 ERA (four starts)
Phillies starter: LHP Cole Hamels
2008: 14-10, 3.09 ERA
2008 at home: 7-7, 2.99 ERA
2008 vs. Rays: 1-0. 2.57 ERA
Career vs. Rays: 1-1, 5.91 ERA (two starts)
2008 WS vs. Rays: 1-0. 2.57 ERA
2008 postseason: 4-0, 1.55 ERA (four starts)
Career postseason: 4-1, 2.02 ERA (five starts)
Phillies lead series, 3-1. Teams that hold a 3-1 lead have won the Series 36 times and lost just six times. The last team to come back from 3-1 was the 1985 Royals over the Cardinals.
Did you know? The Phillies have a chance to become the first team since the 1999 Yankees to finish a postseason undefeated at home.
"But deep down you just kind of push all the emotions aside and do what you've been training your body to do."
The task of beating this postseason success story in the biggest game of the year falls to the Rays and their own talented lefty starter, Scott Kazmir.
The Rays cannot look beyond this game, or else beyond this game there could be nothing for them but the offseason. They must win three in a row, but at the moment only Game 5 matters.
"We have to win, obviously, one game at a time," manager Joe Maddon said on Sunday night. "It's not about winning three, it's about winning tomorrow. That's what I want them to understand. I don't want them to look too far into the future, just win tomorrow."
The first four games of this Series have given the Rays a truly healthy regard for the Phillies.
"They're good, they're really good," Maddon said. "They're a very good ballclub and you can't make mistakes. They're definitely going to feed off of them, especially in this ballpark."
The Rays have been hindered by an astonishing lack of productivity in the middle of their order. Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria have been a combined 0-for-29 in the Series. Maddon believes that the Rays can win the Series even without major production from the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters in his lineup, but he also believes that Pena and Longoria will find their strokes before it is too late.
There was more discouragement in Game 4, the only game of the Series that was not competitive. The Philadelphia victory was a performance far below standards for the Rays on every level.
"We've got to get better fast," Maddon said. "Their [Game 5] pitcher is really good; so is ours. We have to not give them four outs in an inning. We have to have better at-bats. We have to see more pitches. Those are the keys to our success that have gotten away from us.
"To the Phillies' credit, they've played really well and they are very good. But we have to play our game in order to win [Game 5] and the next couple of days after that."
It is all an extremely tall order, that doesn't get any smaller when the opponent's pitcher is this season's Mr. October, Cole Hamels.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.