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10/23/08 3:07 AM EST

Phillies begin Series quest with victory

Backed by Utley's blast, Hamels tosses seven strong innings

ST. PETERSBURG -- Enduring deafening cowbell sounds clanging off Tropicana Field's walls Wednesday night, the Phillies still managed to hear echoes of 1980.

Bringing their own rhythm to the 2008 World Series, notably the beating of the ball off Chase Utley's lumber and the hollow slicing of air waving at Cole Hamels' changeup, the Phillies squeaked out a 3-2 win over the Rays in Game 1 of the Fall Classic.

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So began a quest for Philadelphia that can end successfully with just three more wins. The Phillies recorded their 100th win of 2008 and need what they hope will be a truly grand total 103 to claim their first World Series title since '80.

When the Series continues with Thursday's Game 2 at Tropicana Field, history is on the Phils' side, as 10 of the past 11 Game 1 victors have gone on to take the World Series.

"We can downplay that it's only Game 1, but really, it's a pretty important game," said closer Brad Lidge, who saved his 47th straight game this season with a perfect ninth inning. "Coming in here, getting a win here, is huge. When your ace is on the mound, you need to win."

On that subject, this Game 1 showed how much the starter can decide the outcome. Hamels, the National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player, staked his claim for similar World Series honors, allowing two runs in a 102-pitch, seven-inning effort.

Hamels became just the fourth pitcher to win three Game 1s in the same postseason since the Wild Card era began in 1995, joining John Smoltz (1996), David Wells (1998) and Josh Beckett (2007).

"Yeah, Cole is pretty good, man," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I'm glad he pitches for us. He's been very consistent all year long. How he pitched tonight, that's kind of like a regular game for him. He can be better. He can be bit sharper, but tonight he was very good."

Hamels, now 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA in the 2008 postseason, acted no different for the latest biggest start of his career. Where Brett Myers might zone out with heavy metal music and not talk to anyone, or Jamie Moyer might make idle chat before researching his notes on the opposing team, Hamels was jovial, laughing and joking with teammates.

Elite company
Cole Hamels now has four playoff wins in 2008, becoming the 10th pitcher to win four games in one postseason as a starting pitcher. No starter has won five games in a single postseason.
Cole Hamels2008
Josh Beckett2007
Randy Johnson2001
Curt Schilling2001
David Wells1998
John Smoltz1996
Orel Hershiser1995
Jack Morris1991
Dave Stewart1989
Burt Hooton1981

"He looked like it was just another game," reliever Scott Eyre said. "He was smiling and walking around the locker room. He doesn't do anything to let you know that he's starting that day. He was talking to everybody. Cole never changes. That's a big strength for him."

So is his changeup, and he floated that in whenever needed, helping him record five strikeouts. When things got tight, Hamels got a double play, first and foremost by B.J. Upton with the bases loaded in the third inning.

Playing with the tenacious toughness that defined them all season, the Phillies charged early. Showing no rust from a one-week layoff, Utley delivered his mates to a first-inning lead with a tone-setting, two-run homer off Scott Kazmir that muffled some cowbells.

"I can't think of a better way to quiet them down," Manuel said. "That's how you do it."

Coming back from an 0-2 count, Utley worked the count even before sending a pitch into the right-field seats. It scored Jayson Werth, who had earned a one-out walk. Earlier in the at-bat, Utley laid down a bunt that went foul.

"I guess it turned out pretty well," Utley said. "The third baseman was playing shortstop, I figured with a guy on first and one out, I'd try to create something at that point.

Manuel thought the week off may have helped Utley, who disregards his body during a season and could have used the healing time.

"It definitely could have," Manuel said. "As hard as Utley plays mentally and physically all during the season, he gets worn down. Any time off he gets helps him."

The Rays appeared close to stealing the momentum from the 2-0 cushion when Akinori Iwamura beat out an infield single to Ryan Howard in the bottom of the first. Hamels broke late covering first, and Iwamura beat Howard to the base. But the poised young lefty smothered any spark, getting Upton to rap into a double play and Carlos Pena to ground out, ending the inning.

"He didn't get over to first, but it didn't matter," Eyre said. "He got a double play and an out. It's like he said, 'Oh well. OK.' It's neat to watch from a 24-year-old kid."

Two innings later, Hamels induced another double-play grounder from Upton, this time with the bases loaded to end a threat.

Game 1 history
The winner of the first game of the World Series has gone on to win the Fall Classic 63 times (61.2%). That includes 17 of the past 20. The three most recent exceptions to that rule were:
YearG1 winnerWorld champions
2002GiantsAngels, 4-3
1996BravesYankees, 4-2
1992BravesBlue Jays, 4-2

"That's huge," Hamels said. "They're devastating. They can hit the long ball, and that was something I was aware of, especially with B.J. He's the type of guy that can change a game in an instant. Being able to get the double play was the kind of momentum swing in our favor, because if they can load the bases with less than two outs and not score, then you definitely have the upper hand."

The Rays scored in the fourth on a home run by Carl Crawford and in the fifth on an RBI double by Iwamura that scored Jason Bartlett, but that was it.

Hamels left after seven innings, and Ryan Madson and Lidge sewed up the save with a perfect final two frames, giving the Phillies a World Series Game 1 victory for the first time since 1980. They haven't lost a game this season when leading in the ninth inning.

It wasn't all pretty in Game 1, however. The Phillies went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position, making Kazmir work but scoring just enough runs to win.

The Phillies have reached this point by winning 20 of 25 games, including a 7-2 record in eliminating the Brewers and Dodgers. Wednesday's win made it 21 of 26.

In every sense, this was a huge night for the Phillies organization. Every full-time front-office employee was offered the chance to attend Games 1 and 2 with a guest, and 175 employees plus about 150 guests accepted the offer. Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt was there, dressed in a suit and wearing his 1980 World Series championship ring.

The Rays are seeking to complete a unique cycle in which the Phillies have lost a World Series to every American League East team -- the Red Sox in 1915, Yankees in 1950, Orioles in 1983 and Blue Jays in 1993. Their lone championship came against the Royals, who were in their 11th year of existence. The Rays are in their 11th season.

To Manuel and the Phillies, all the matters right now is the next game, and going in with a 1-0 lead in the World Series is the best way to start.

"Every one of them is important," Manuel said. "We won tonight, and we've got the same mind-set. We come back tomorrow and work on winning tomorrow's game. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves."

Hamels, Utley and Lidge helped put them ahead, allowing the Phillies to take a crucial first step in a place where the Rays rarely lose.

"We like being the underdogs," Shane Victorino said. "It seems like we play our best when our backs are against the wall. Coming into a place like this -- Tampa is so good at home -- being able to take Game 1 is big. But Boston took Game 1, too [in the ALCS]. It's still a long series. We're far from done. We'll show up tomorrow and try and get Game 2."

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.