This was survival here.
Double-digit men left on base, baffling managerial decisions, ineptitude from Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard... and they won it anyway. It's the first World Series victory for the franchise since Curt Schilling's five-hit shutout in Game Five of the 1993 Fall Classic, and it couldn't be appropriate that Schilling's ace successor, Cole Hamels, took the win.
Make no mistake: Hamels, Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge got us this one. Hamels wasn't quite at his unhittable best, but he held down a good offense for seven innings, got a couple double plays when he needed them, and showed his continuing evolution into one of the best pitchers in the game--and one of the best Phils postseason pitchers ever. Madson and Lidge continued to do what they've done all through the playoffs: six up, six down.
Chase Utley was the hero on offense, delivering a huge two-run homer in the first inning after Jayson Werth worked a walk. Utley later added a single, and Werth doubled twice. Shane Victorino and Pedro Feliz also had two hits each. And while the Phils couldn't deliver with men in scoring position, they drove up Scott Kazmir's pitch count early, and saw almost every arm in the Tampa bullpen over the last three innings--which could pay dividends later in the series. Perhaps the same will prove true of Charlie Manuel's decision to lift Hamels after just 100 pitches through seven innings... though there's no excuse for his leaving Eric Bruntlett in to hit with two on and two out in the top of the ninth, with three better lefty bats on the bench and at least one, probably two better gloves.
The conventional wisdom was that this game meant more to the Phils, with Hamels starting it, than it did the Rays. For once, the conventional wisdom probably was right. Hamels is the best pitcher in this series, and he delivered like an ace--taking enormous pressure off Game Two starter Brett Myers, for one thing, and picking up his teammates. He grabbed home-field advantage for his team, and Tampa, while no pushover on the road--as disappointed Red Sox fans can attest--is tougher at home.
The Phils take a 1-0 World Series lead into Game Two tomorrow night, when Myers faces off against James Shields.