Breaking down tonight's World Series game. All stats for starting pitchers are postseason only.
Series: World Series, Game 4
Time: 8:00 p.m. EST
Starters:Andy Sonnanstine (2-0, 3.46 ERA) vs. Joe Blanton (1-0, 3.27 ERA)
The first three games of this World Series have been decided by a total of four runs, with last night's Game 3 coming down to Ruiz's game-ending hit in the bottom of the ninth. After three games, the Rays and Phillies have scored 10 runs each. The last time the run totals were even after the first three games of a World Series was 2000, when the Yankees and Mets both plated a dozen men through three games, the first of which was decided in the Yankees' last at-bat in the bottom of the 12th inning. No game in that entire Series was decided by more than two runs, but despite the fact that each game was close, the Series wasn't. The Yankees beat the Mets in five games.
The same thing could be happening this year. With Cole Hamels looming in Game 5, last night's game was one the Rays had to have. Had the Rays won Game 3, they would have prevented Hamels from having the opportunity to pitch for the championship in Game 5. Now, with the Phillies boasting a 2-1 advantage, another Phils win tonight would put them in position to wrap up Philadelphia's first professional sports championship in 25 years in Game 5 with Hamels on the mound. Given Hamels' dominance thus far this postseason (4-0, 1.55 ERA in four starts), tonight's Game 4 might as well be an elimination game for Tampa Bay.
Though Game 3 was the highest-scoring game of this series and saw the Phillies match the home run total of both teams from Games 1 and 2, the trends that we saw in Florida continued. With Jamie Moyer having a great night, the Rays again struggled to put men on base, but did manage to score four of their eight baserunners. The Phillies came into Game 3 having scored three of their five runs at Tropicana Field on home runs and the other two on a groundout and a Rays error. Though they scored five more runs in Game 3, three of them came on solo homers, one came on a groundout, and the last came on that game-winning 45-foot chopper off the bat of Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz, who also hit one of those solo home runs, continues to have an outstanding Series at the plate (.500/.667/1.125). Pat Burrell remains hitless and has now struck out five times in nine at-bats. Because of the long layoff between the NLDS and the World Series, Burrell hasn't had a hit in a week and a half.
On the Rays side, the man to worry about is Longoria, who is now 0-for-12 on the series with six strikeouts. Longoria had a particularly disheartening game last night. After striking out in his first two at-bats -- the first of which ended an inning, stranding a runner -- Longoria came to the plate with two out in the sixth with a man on second and his team down 2-1. Moyer's first pitch was an 80-mile-per-hour meatball, belt-high and right over the plate. Longoria jumped on it and hit what looked to be a mammoth two-run homer to give his team the lead, but the wind stopped it cold and the ball dropped into Burrell's glove a step in front of the left field wall. In the next half-inning, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard homered to extend the Phillies' lead, and after the Rays rallied to tie -- with Longoria standing idly at the plate whenB.J. Upton stole third and scored the tying run on a Ruiz throwing error -- it was Longoria's decision to pick up Ruiz's chopper instead of hoping it would go foul that allowed the winning run to score. Longoria has shown tremendous composure for a 22-year-old rookie, but a game like that on top of a pair of oh-fers would have to get in anyone's head.
The Series now turns on the one pitching match-up that doesn't strongly favor either team. Joe Blanton and Andy Sonnanstine are solid fourth-starters, league-average pitchers, both of whom delivered 12 quality starts and just shy of 200 innings during the regular season. Both have pitched well in two postseason starts. Neither has allowed more than three runs in any one outing this postseason. Blanton dominated the Brewers for six innings in the NLDS, but only lasted five innings against the Dodgers in the NLCS. Sonnanstine lasted just 5 2/3 against the White Sox in the ALDS, but pitched 7 1/3 strong innings against the Red Sox in the ALCS. Only Matt Stairs has faced Sonnanstine from among the Phillies, and they're unlikely to face each other again tonight. Blanton faced the Rays back on May 19, when he was still with the A's, pitched six innings, allowed four runs and came away with a no-decision. Sonnanstine is the only Rays pitcher without a significant home/road split. Blanton has pitched well at Citizens Bank Park, but his 3.55 ERA there in seven starts isn't quite exceptional. Both are right-handers who had slight reverse splits this year, which could favor the Rays ever so slightly because of B.J. Upton, but with Longoria and Burrell both slumping badly, that may not mean much either.
Neither team burned out its bullpen last night coming off Friday's off-day, though both bullpens blew one-run leads. There's really very little statistical edge advantage for either team going into Game 4, but the intangibles -- such as home-field advantage, momentum, and the pressure applied by Hamels' prospective Game 5 start -- all favor the Phillies. It seems awfully early for this, but the Rays' stunning season comes down to tonight. Win, and they'll take this series back to Florida; lose, and they'll be as good as done.