Actually, I'll give you 10 thoughts. Five to cheer you up, and five to give you pause:
Five Reasons to Be Incredibly Optimistic Tonight:
1. Cole Hamels is an upper-echelon ace. This is obvious. When the pitching rotation was set, this is what we were all hoping for (short of a sweep). The World Series at our reach with Cole Hamels on the mound in front of a home crowd. He has been incredible this off-season. 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA, a 0.90 WHIP. Opponents are hitting .182 against him. And the Rays are not very good against lefties, with a .726 team OPS this year (compared to a .778 OPS against righties).
2. Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins are back. For most of the post-season, the team's two former-MVPs have looked terrible. But, in the past two games they've found their stroke and are hitting as we expected. They're a combined 9 for 17 (.529 average), with 7 runs scored. Howard alone has 3 home runs and 6 RBI. By getting to the World Series, the team proved that it could win without these two. But, it's much easier to win with them.
3. Brad Lidge is rested. Brad Lidge hasn't pitched since last Wednesday. With that much rest, if needed, he can pitch more than 3 outs. And, with an off-day tomorrow regardless of the outcome tonight, Manuel won't have to fear wasting him just in case the Phillies are still playing come Wednesday.
4. The Philly crowds have been incredible. This post-season has shown what amazing fans we have here in Philadelphia. And, even if it's correlation instead of causation, the team is a perfect 6-0 at home in October. The last two series have been won on the road. Tonight, knowing that we can be rewarded with a Series win in Philadelphia, the crowd is going to be wild.
5. Everyone's chipping in. Carlos Ruiz with a 1.396 World Series OPS? Joe Blanton with his first career home run? Eric Bruntlett with a home run and a game-winning little-league-esque run-the-bases? With contributions like these, it would be no surprise if So Taguchi won the game tonight with a key pinch hit.
Five Reasons to Temper Your Optimism:
1. Ryan Madson is not rested. Madson and Lidge have been an incredible combination this post-season. They've combined to allow 3 earned runs in 20.33 innings. They effectively shorten the game to 7 innings. But, while Lidge is rested, Madson is not. Madson has thrown 2 innings and 32 pitches over the last 2 days. And they've been high-leverage innings to boot.
2. Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena are 0 for 29. The two Rays' sluggers are hitting terribly. In the regular season, they combined for 58 home runs and 187 RBI. In the World Series, they have yet to get a hit between them, and have a combined 2 RBI. As we have seen with Rollins and Howard, good hitters can only be kept in check for so long, and Longoria has shown some signs of breaking out: he has hit two long flies to left field in the past two days -- one caught by Burrell at the track and another just foul yesterday. We need to hope they wait until next April to break their slump.
3. A loss tonight gives the Rays huge momentum. If the Rays win tonight, they will have beaten our ace and will be returning home, where they've been a much better team. They'll still have an uphill battle, needing to win both home games. But, they will feel rejuvenated with the confidence of fending off Hamels and returning home.
4. The officials can't continue to be this bad in our favor. Yesterday's officiating came in handy for Philadelphia fans. The not-so-muffed muffed punt in the Eagles game sealed the victory. The safe-yet-tagged Jimmy Rollins scored the first run of the game for the Phillies. And the home plate umpire's generous strike zone the past two games has certainly helped the Phillies' pitchers more than the Rays' pitchers. But this kind of officiating luck can't last forever.
5. Joe Carter. We all know what this is about. It's not merely about Joe Carter. He's just a stand-in for 15 years of Phillies misery and 25 years of Philadelphia sports misery. Of course, some of it is bad luck, but much of it has been earned. This Phillies team is not in the latter category, but that doesn't stop the former from rearing its ugly head, as we all know too well.
That being said, I'm banking on the first five reasons to hold off the second five and for the Phillies to win tonight. I'll be there, basking in the glory of World Series fever. It's been a long time, and tonight's the night!