Upton's big throw
Things were going from bad to worse for the Rays in the top of the second. Starter Scott Kazmir had yielded Chase Utley's two-run homer in the first and now was digging himself a big hole. Centerfielder Shane Victorino led off with a single and moved to second on a walk to third baseman Pedro Feliz. Victorino was lucky not to be called out on a pickoff by Kazmir then moved to third on a one-out walk to catcher Carlos Ruiz that loaded the bases. Then Jimmy Rollins lofted a fly ball to shallow center. B.J. Upton made the catch, and Victorino made his break for the plate. But Upton fired the ball on a perfect line to catcher Dioner Navarro, who blocked the plate and tagged Victorino to complete the double play.
Trailing 2-0, the Rays looked as if they were ready to strike in the bottom of the third. With one out, Ben Zobrist lashed a single to left off Cole Hamels. Jason Bartlett then drew a walk. The crowd roared, and the noise level soared one batter later when Akinori Iwamura, above,punched a single to shallow right. Zobrist rounded third but was held up. Up came B.J. Upton with a chance to complement his earlier defensive gem with some offensive magic. Upton, who hit into a double play in the first, worked the count to 2-and-1 then hit a hard grounder to third. But Pedro Feliz scooped it up and fired to second baseman Chase Utley, above, who relayed the ball to first baseman Ryan Howard to complete thedouble play.
A Phillies great weighs in
Robin Roberts knows a thing or two about the Phillies. He's one of their all-time greats, a Hall of Famer who went 286-245 with 2,357 strikeouts and 305 complete games over 19 seasons. But as a longtime Tampa area resident and former USF baseball coach, he has a soft spot in his heart for the Rays. So what's a legend to do?
"I'll be rooting for the Phillies, of course," Roberts, 82, said by phone Wednesday from his Temple Terrace home. "But if the Rays beat 'em, I won't be that unhappy because it's been fun watching them all year."
It's hard to blame Roberts for remaining loyal to the Phillies. Roberts remains part of the team, making appearances and serving as an ambassador. And he will throw out the first pitch for Sunday's Game 4 in Philadelphia.
Roberts understands what it's like to play in a World Series. As one of the fabled "Whiz Kids," he led the Phillies there in 1950, starting three games over the final five days of the regular season and clinching the pennant over Brooklyn in a 10-inning game for his 20th victory. Roberts then pitched all 10 innings of 2-1 loss in Game 2 of a Series the Yankees swept.
"We thought we'd get back again because we were so young," he said. "But we never made it to the Series again."
Roberts likes what he has seen of the Phillies and Rays. He has been to about five games at the Trop this season and watched every other Tampa Bay game on TV.
"They convinced me during the year, like everybody else, that they're really a solid team," he said. "We knew the Phillies were good. And it's just fantastic having 'em play each other."
Night of firsts
Pitch: A called strike from the Rays' Scott Kazmir to Jimmy Rollins at 8:38
Batter: Rollins, who flies out to rightfielder Ben Zobrist on an 0-and-1 pitch
Baserunner: The Phillies' Jayson Werth on a first-inning walk
Hit/home run/run: Chase Utley two-run shot to right on a 2-and-2 pitch in the first
Strikeout: Kazmir against Pat Burrell, looking, on an 0-and-2 pitch to end the first
Kazmir's special guest
Brent McDonald has seen Scott Kazmir do plenty. Kazmir's coach at Cypress Falls High in Houston watched the southpaw throw four straight no-hitters as a junior. He watched Kazmir get drafted in the first round (15th overall by the Mets in 2002). But until Wednesday, McDonald hadn't seen Kazmir pitch as a pro in person.
Kazmir got McDonald tickets late Tuesday, and McDonald took an early Wednesday morning flight to make it. He and current Cypress coach Carl McCloskey (an assistant when Kazmir was there), sat in the lower deck down the first-base line.
"It's pretty exciting, pretty thrilling," McDonald said. "It's Game 1 of the World Series. Who would have ever thought something like this would have happened?"
'Bop at the Trop'
ESPN anchor Chris Berman, below, chatted with his old friend and Rays manager Joe Maddon prior to the game then weighed in on the surreal quality of the Rays in the World Series. "Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, when (Paul) Newman said to (Robert) Redford, 'Who are those guys?'" he said. Berman fondly dubbed the old Tampa Stadium "The Big Sombrero" What about the Trop? "Tonight," he said, "it'll be the Bop at the Trop."
Price no object
Phillies fans, decked out in red caps and shirts, were loud and noticeable. In pricey seats directly behind the Phillies' dugout sat Kevin Morgan and brother Keith, who flew in from Philly. So how much did Morgan shell out for the trip?
"About $2,500," he said, which included $1,500 for the tickets.
"I wouldn't miss this. It's the first time we've been in the Series in 15 years," said Morgan, who runs a sports leadership program.
Would he rather have seen the Phillies face the Rays or Red Sox?
"Boston," he said. "I like the Rays, but we'll see if they're hungover from the last series."
Bucs fans might recall Beasley Reece, a standout safety for them from 1983-84. He did a stint as a sportscaster for Tampa Bay's Ch. 44 after retiring. Wednesday, Reece was inside the Trop, reporting live back to Philadelphia, where he has worked the past 11 years as sports director for its CBS affiliate. "I'm proud of this city. I'm proud of the fans here," he said. "I was here when they first announced that they were building this building. And here they are in the World Series. It's one heck of an accomplishment."
Holding a memory close
Rays manager Joe Maddon, a native Pennsylvanian, was watching ESPN during a Miami road trip this summer when he saw its coverage of Pittsburgh teen John Challis, left. Maddon was touched how Challis was battling liver and lung cancer but wanted a chance to play baseball for the school team. Challis got his chance on the final game of the season and got a hit.
Maddon reached out to the youth and arranged a meeting, where Challis presented him with a bracelet. In August, the boy died.
"I still wear his little bracelet," Maddon said this week. "I was very impressed, very moved. There's no adequate words. I wanted to meet him, and the meeting was spectacular."
Maddon keeps in touch with Challis' coach and dad. In fact, prior to the Rays' Game 7 win over Boston, the dad texted Maddon a message.
"He (went) to Johnny's grave and put a Rays hat on his tombstone and sent me a photograph," Maddon said. "It was very cool."
Fox exec remains excited
This World Series does not feature Manny Ramirez's revenge against the Red Sox nor Chicago's White Sox and Cubs. But Fox Sports president Ed Goren said he is excited to expose the Rays to the world.
"It's quite possibly one of the most intriguing stories in all of sports in many, many years," Goren said. "In its own way, the Rays being in the World Series is an opportunity for us to build the future."
A different kind of Bell
For the second straight year, Taco Bell will give away free beef tacos thanks to Tampa Bay's Jason Bartlett stealing second in the fifth. They can be picked up from 2 to 6 p.m. Oct. 28.
A nod to the past
Pinellas County Commissioner Bob Stewart was shopping at Walgreens on Tuesday when his cell phone rang. Rays president Matt Silverman was calling.
"Bob, I've got a favor to ask of you," Stewart remembered Silverman saying. "I'd like for you to throw out the first pitch tomorrow."
Stewart almost jumped. "And my feet haven't touched the ground since," Stewart said on the field Wednesday.
Known as Mr. Baseball for his effort in first building Tropicana Field then for his help in securing a baseball franchise, Stewart had thrown out two ceremonial first pitches before. But none will ever top this.
"We started out with a belief 31 years ago that maybe this might become a baseball city 31 years ago," Stewart said. "But I never dreamt there would be a World Series right here at Tropicana Field."
Stewart didn't have a chance to practice his toss amid all the euphoria, but he promised not to throw it short.
Accompanied by former owner Vince Naimoli, he threw a perfect strike then raised his hands into the air.
Tampa Bay is attempting to become just the fifth market to win a World Series, Super Bowl and Stanley Cup. The Bucs won the Super Bowl in January 2003, and the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in June 2004. The markets that have done so with teams and number of titles:
Market MLB NHL NFL
Boston Red Sox (7) Bruins (5) Patriots (3)
New York Yankees (26) Rangers (4) Giants (3)
Mets (2) Islanders (4) Jets (1)
Chicago White Sox (3) 'Hawks (3) Bears (1) Cubs (2)
Pittsburgh Pirates (5) Penguins (2) Steelers (5)