Series: World Series, Game 3
Time: 8:35 p.m. EST
Starters: Matt Garza (2-1, 3.32 ERA) vs. Jamie Moyer (0-2, 13.50 ERA)
The Phillies won the game they were supposed to win behind Cole Hamels in Game 1. The Rays won the game they were supposed to win at home behind James Shields in Game 2. To some observers, it may appear that the Phillies, having achieved a split on the road, have come out on top as they'll now host three of the maximum five remaining games. Not so fast. As the World Series shifts to Philadelphia, it is now a best-of-five series in which Hamels will pitch only once, but Jamie Moyer will pitch twice. Advantage Rays.
Moyer, who starts tonight, has taken the loss in the Phillies' only two defeats this postseason. In his one NLCS start, he wasn't able to get out of the second inning, allowing six runs before he could get five outs. In his NLDS start against the Brewers he only allowed two runs, but was pulled after the fourth inning having thrown 90 pitches, allowed seven baserunners, uncorked one wild pitch, and escaped a potential third-inning jam thanks to a baserunning mistake by Corey Hart. The specter of Moyer starting Game 7, which he is lined up to do, haunts Philadelphia in this series.
To make matters worse for the Phillies, the man who will pitch against Moyer in his two starts is ALCS MVP Matt Garza, who dominated the Red Sox in Games 3 and 7 of that series, allowing just two runs and striking out 14 in 13 frames and out-dueling Jon Lester in Game 7. There's no guarantee that Garza will be that good, or Moyer that bad, tonight, but much like Game 1 was for the Phillies, this is a game that heavily favors the Rays, and for that reason it's one Tampa Bay has to win.
It will be interesting to see how the two offenses respond as this series shifts from the pitching-friendly Tropicana Field to the bandbox that is Citizen's Bank Park. After two games, the aggregate score of this series is 6-5 Rays. The Phillies have stranded 22 runners thus far. In Game 2, the Phils got the leadoff man on to start an inning six times, only scored him once, and even then it took a Rays error to get the runner home. Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell are hitless thus far in 16 at-bats (though Burrell has walked twice). Chase Utley connected for a two-run home run in the first inning of Game 1. Defensive replacement Eric Bruntlett smacked a solo homer late in Game 2. The only other Philadelphia RBI in this series came on a groundout by Carlos Ruiz in Game 1.
Ruiz, incidentally, is beginning to look like a surprisingly valuable postseason hitter. He was a complete non-entity in the NLDS against the Brewers (1-for-14), but in his three other postseason series (last year's NLDS against the Rockies, this year's NLCS, and the first two games of this World Series), he has hit .357/.454/.786 (10-for-28, though all four of his extra base hits have been doubles). Then again, if you factor this year's NLDS back in, his rates dive down to .250/.340/.341, which is right in line with his career numbers in the regular season.
In stark contrast to the Phillies, the Rays have been remarkably efficient in plating their baserunners, stranding just seven in the first two games while scoring six, with a different Ray driving in each of those six runs. The catch there is that the Rays aren't getting on base very often, and when they do get that big hit, it's almost always a single. The Rays have a .270 on-base percentage in this series (against the Phillies' .333), and just two extra base hits (against the Phillies' seven). Surprisingly, those extra-base knocks both came off Cole Hamels in Game 1. Less surprisingly, both -- a Carl Crawford home run (his only time on base in eight plate appearances thus far) and an Akinori Iwamura double -- drove in a run.
When you have one team able to get on base, but unable to drive those runners home, and another team able to plate what few runners they get, but unable to get more than a few, you get a close, low-scoring series, which is what we've had so far. With Moyer on the mound at Citizens Bank Park, that could change. Moyer's home ERA of 4.61 was more than a run and a half higher than his road mark this year, and a near-exact match for his career mark of 4.60 at CBP. Mix in the fact that both of his playoff starts thus far have not only been ugly, but have come on the road, and that the Tampa hitters who have faced him before have generally had their way with him, and things could get ugly in Philadelphia tonight.
Carlos Peña is a career .500/.545/.950 hitter against Moyer in 22 plate appearances. Crawford is 9-for-19 against Moyer with a pair of extra-base hits. In a much smaller sample, B.J. Upton is 3-for-5 against the veteran lefty. In contrast, the only Phillie to have faced Matt Garza before tonight is reserve lefty Matt Stairs, who is 1 for 10 against the hard-throwing righty with five strikeouts (that echoes, RoccoBaldelli's numbers against Moyer; the Rays' right-handed platoon right fielder who curiously started not against the lefty Hamels in Game 1, but against the righty Myers in Game 2, is just 1 for 10 career the left-handed Moyer).
With seemingly every indicator going against them heading into tonight's Game 3, the Phillies could take control of this series by pulling out a win behind Moyer tonight. Were they to do that, it would set their guest list for their second-ever world championship to "Hamels + 1," meaning all they'd have to do was win Hamels' Game 5 start and one other, and if they won Game 5, they wouldn't have to worry about facing elimination until Game 7, if at all. Indeed, a win tonight would reduce the Phillies' chances of facing a Game 7 in which they'd need to turn to Moyer again. And there's the irony. Jamie Moyer is making the first World Series start of his career in his 22nd year in the major leagues at the age of 45 and doing it for the team he grew up rooting for. It's a great story, but it could prove to be a tragic one if he winds up costing his team this series.