PHILADELPHIA — They were young. They were powerful. They were dangerous.
Only days ago, seemingly only minutes ago, there was thunder in every swing. Only a few games ago, only a large slab of momentum ago, they looked as if they were going to crush their way to the title.
Yes, you can say it about the Rays.
Also, you can say it about those cute little sticks they seem to be carrying all of a sudden.
Suddenly, they are the hitless wonders. They wave and they miss. They poke and they pop. They are so quiet that you can hear the termites chew inside.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Phillies have regained control of the World Series with a 5-4 victory in Game 3.
The Rays, who spent most of the ALCS inviting you to think of snazzy hitting nicknames such as The Florida Power Company or the Big Rays Machine, have gone silent. Suddenly, the hits have dried up, as if someone has pulled the plug on the electricity of the offense. They have become the oh-fers of '08.
Carlos Pena, oh-for-10.
Evan Longoria, oh-for-12.
All of this against the Phillies' 200-year-old pitcher Jamie Moyer? Oh-for-crying-out-loud.
You know what this sleepover of a game looked like? It looked as if the Rays' bats were up past their bedtime. It looked as if Grandpa Moyer had gathered the sticks around and read Goodnight, Moon and then poured warm milk over them. They looked as if Sominex grew on trees and those trees were then shaped and polished by Louisville Slugger.
In other words, they didn't hit.
If you were sleepwalking, perhaps you noticed. Perhaps you ran into the Rays' hitters in the hall.
True, centerfielder B.J. Upton tried to run his team back into contention in the eighth inning. He beat out an infield hit. He stole second. He stole third. And when the throw to third bounced away, Upton came home. Not bad for a guy with the reputation of playing while on cruise control, is it?
Still, the Rays could not hit enough to win, which is why they are down 2-1 in the Series.
Let's face it. For most of the season, we knew that hitting was not exactly the Rays' strength. They could field the ball, and they had great starters, and they had solid relievers.
But thump it? No, not really. For most of the season, the Rays managed to get the big hit at the big moment, but they weren't prone to outslugging anyone. Then came the playoffs, and for a while, it looked as if Longoria and Upton were turning into the Bash Brothers before our eyes.
Hitting is like that, however. It comes without being invited, and it leaves without you noticing.
Nothing against Moyer, of course. Most of us love our grandparents. And there is something admirable about an athlete who refuses to surrender to the calendar. (For the record, Moyer is really a spry 45.)
On the other hand, when did Moyer turn into Sandy Koufax? Remember how the Rays held their own against Jon Lester of the Red Sox in the ALCS? Most days, Moyer would like very much to go as Lester for Halloween.
This was supposed to be the swing game for the Rays, remember? Matt Garza had pitched so well in his last two outings when he won the MVP award of the ALCS. The common thought was that Moyer might nibble for a while, but eventually, the Rays would catch up to him.
It didn't happen. For the first six innings of the game, the Rays managed only three hits, and none of those were particularly harsh. Only two balls were hit hard all night — a sacrifice fly by Gabe Gross and a fly to the fence by Longoria.
The Rays finally squeezed a couple of runs over in the seventh to make it close.
Even going into the Saturday night sleepover, the Rays weren't exactly punishing the ball. They had hit .207 in the first two Series games, and they had only one home run. Now, it is true that the Rays lost their designated hitter for Game 3; on the other hand, are we certain which one was the pitcher?
Alas, I kid. What else are you going to do at a time like this? You know, I know and the Rays know that they aren't going to win this Series unless the bats get a little more muscle to them. You know, I know and the Rays know that seven runs in three games is not going to get a trophy listed.
Yeah, we have seen the Rays come back before. Yeah, we know they are capable of winning three out of the next four.
On the other hand, scoring a few more runs might help. Don't you think?