Saturday, October 25, 2008

Small ball plays a big part in Rays' Game 2 win over Phillies

By Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY
Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett lays down a squeeze bunt up the first-base line in the fourth inning to drive home Cliff Floyd from third base. The perfectly executed play gave the Rays a 4-0 lead.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — On pace to set postseason records for home runs and stolen bases, the Rays did all the little things Thursday night as they won the first World Series game in franchise history, tying the Fall Classic at a game apiece before it moves to Philadelphia for Game 3 on Saturday night.

GAME REPORT: Rays 4, Phillies 2

Philadelphia has shown all of the firepower of a go-kart at a NASCAR race in the clutch this postseason, hitting .157. The Phillies, who pride themselves on their powerful offense, are hitting even worse this series, batting. 036 with runners in scoring position.

They might be hitting .400 with no one in scoring position but have one infield hit in 28 at-bats with a runner on second or third base.

"I'm concerned about us hitting with guys on base," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel says, "because it looks at times like we might be trying too hard."

"It may seem like we're pressing, but I know personally I'm not," Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino said. "I mean, is it that guys are pressing or are guys just not getting the job done? You tell me.

"Hey, you're going to fail in this game. But we're just failing too often."

While the Phillies had problems simply hitting the ball out of the infield, the Rays scored three of their four runs on two groundouts and a safety squeeze. Philadelphia scored its two runs on a solo homer by Eric Bruntlett and an error by Rays third baseman Evan Longoria.

Rays DH Cliff Floyd sees a veteran team perhaps trying too hard. The Phillies have left 22 runners on base, and leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins has yet to reach base.

"You have to settle for what they give you, not try to do too much," Floyd said. "If you don't capitalize on those opportunities, you usually end up losing. They know it. We know it. Everybody in baseball knows it."

Floyd scored in the fourth inning on Jason Bartlett's safety squeeze down the first-base line.

"Speed kills, baby," Floyd said, getting laughter from the reporters standing at his locker. "I looked at the sign and thought, 'Are you sure?' I think that's the first safety squeeze I've been a part of. I had to get these legs going. If they had pitched out, I would have been out by a mile."

Floyd said he appreciates that manager Joe Maddon likes to surprise the team. "That's Joe. He'll do anything at any time. I think any time you can surprise the other team, you should go for it."

Maddon usually explains his strategy, but when asked about Bartlett's bunt, he said he'd rather not discuss it.

"I'm not going to talk about it," he said. "I'm not being rude. It's just something we do, and it worked out well."

The Rays scored two runs in the first inning on RBI groundouts by Carlos Pena and Longoria, two of their big power threats. Another of their power hitters, outfielder B.J. Upton, who has hit seven home runs this October, added an RBI single in the second.

"That's what we are all about — small ball," Upton said. "We can do the little things. Carlos' grounder and Evan's grounder got us off to a good start.

"We win any way we can, small ball, home runs. Sometimes it goes one way, and sometimes it goes the other."

On defense, right fielder Rocco Baldelli caught Chase Utley's drive and then threw to Pena to double up the Phillies' Jayson Werth at first base to end the fifth inning.

"I think Chase might have hit it on the end of the bat," Baldelli said. "I looked up and saw that he was off, so I just took a chance with the throw."

The Rays have hit 23 home runs in 13 postseason games, fourth-most in major-league history, and their 18 steals have tied the 1995 Cleveland Indians for most by an American League team in the postseason. The Rays are two short of the postseason steals record, held by the 1975 Cincinnati Reds and 1992 Atlanta Braves.

Maddon was pleased with the small-ball success because he said the team isn't as good at it as the players say. During the game, he told coach Dave Martinez that they need to practice it next spring training.

"We've been horrid with that all year," Maddon said. "Ground ball, ground ball, bunt, three points (runs) right there. That's beautiful. You're not always going to hit home runs. When you get an opportunity to score a run, you better take advantage."

Upton had a surprised look for a TV reporter who asked if he thought the Rays could win a game in Philadelphia to bring the series back to St. Petersburg next week.

Upton set the record straight: "We are confident. We like to go into every game thinking that we can win. We are going to be fine."

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