10/26/08 4:29 AM ET
Spin Forward: Long balls = short series
Rays must keep Phillies in the park or dream season could end quickly
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
No, they won in large part because of the biggest of big things: the big fly. And it's up to the Rays to contain them as the series goes forward, or risk having their dream season end short of true fairy-tale status.
Philadelphia hit three homers on Saturday night, making it 15 in 12 postseason games for the National League champions. And the equation has been very simple. When the Phils hit two or more homers this postseason, they're 4-0. When they hit one, they're 3-1. When they don't hit any, they're 1-2. Keep 'em in the yard, you have a chance to win. Watch the ball fly over the wall, the Phils are going to beat you.
Matt Garza gave up all three jacks on Saturday. They were all solo shots, and an old baseball adage says solo homers don't beat you. Give up enough of them, though, and they will in fact do just that. And the cozy confines of Citizens Bank Park magnify that challenge.
"It's a lot smaller," Garza said. "This place is a lot smaller, and the elements play into it. The wind was blowing out to right field today early in the game, and that's what happens."
Nine different Phillies have now gone deep in October, but there's no doubt that some guys scare Tampa Bay more than others. Carlos Ruiz's shot may have been the best-hit ball on Saturday, but Ruiz isn't a guy to worry too much about. Chase Utley is -- and his homer was his second of the series and third of the postseason. Ryan Howard is, as well, and he hit his first of the playoffs.
"When they hit, you guys tell me, 'Hey, look, they're starting to come around,' " Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said to reporters. "These guys are good hitters. It's like I said the other day, [Howard] didn't get the 146 RBIs with somebody giving it to him. He's a legitimate hitter."
For Utley and Howard to be finding their power strokes is a concern for the visitors. The Rays won Game 2 and have kept the Phillies relatively quiet overall by minimizing big innings. As has been repeated ad nauseam, the Phillies have two hits with a runner in scoring position in the entire series.
However, even if the Rays keep making those big pitches at big times, if they also give up homers it will be for naught. One of these nights, the baserunners from Games 1-2 will meet up with the homers from Game 3 -- and it will be a festive night for the Phillies and their fans.
So the task is, keep the ball down. Don't let them play power ball.
"There's a lot of good hitters on this team, maybe a couple more than most," said Phillies reliever J.P. Howell. "You throw your best stuff in there, and if you have to guess on something, scratch that and go to your best pitch. That's something you have to learn to do, and know when to throw your not-best pitch. That's a key."
Fortunately for the Rays, on Sunday they send a pitcher to the mound who does a good job of keeping the ball in play. Andy Sonnanstine allowed 21 homers in 193 1/3 innings, not a microscopic rate but certainly a respectable one. He'll need to be at least that good on Sunday.
Rays relieve J.P. Howell boiled the task down to its simplest expression:
"They can't hit it out of the park if it's on the ground."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.