Long wait doesn’t stop Phillies from fast start

Published 2:29 am Thursday, October 23, 2008

The waiting game turned into a winning game for Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Hamels escaped trouble to win his fourth postseason start, Utley hit a two-run homer in the first inning and the Phillies beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 in the World Series opener Wednesday night.

The worst-to-first Rays flopped in their first game in baseball’s ultimate event, managing just five hits — none after the fifth inning.

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For now, this puts an end to the rest vs. rust debate.

‘‘I don’t think it threw off our timing too much,’’ Utley said of the six-day layoff. ‘‘I think tomorrow we should definitely be more back on track.’’

Philadelphia will try to make it two in a row at Tropicana Field when Brett Myers pitches against James Shields in Game 2 Thursday night.

The team that won the opener has captured the Series 63 of 103 times, including 10 of the last 11. But the team with home-field advantage has taken 18 of the last 22 titles.

‘‘It’s huge,’’ Phillies closer Brad Lidge said. ‘‘You try and downplay it, but obviously you’re coming into a place like this, you want to make sure you get the first game, especially because you got your ace on the mound. It’s really important to do that.’’

Hamels, MVP of the NL championship series, improved to 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA this postseason. He had only a pair of 1-2-3 innings, but the composed 24-year-old left-hander allowed two runs and five hits in seven innings.

He benefited from the extra rest.

‘‘I think for a starter it’s almost better sometimes, just because it gives you more time to heal up,’’ Hamels said.

Ryan Madson pitched a perfect eighth. Lidge worked the ninth for his 47th save in 47 chances this year, silencing the Rays and their cowbell-clanging fans.

‘‘If you want to take the wind out of the sails,’’ Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said, ‘‘you shut the cow bells up and get some home runs. That will do it — except in Citizens Bank Park. If you hit enough there, they ring a bell. They ring the Liberty Bell.’’

Manuel could crack the jokes. Not much to yuck about for the Rays and their fans. While Carl Crawford homered, playoff stars B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria went a combined 0-for-8.

Scott Kazmir, selected two picks ahead of Hamels in the first round of the 2002 amateur draft, struggled with his control and gave up three runs, six hits and four walks in six innings.

‘‘It wasn’t an easy night, and I felt like I had to battle every single inning,’’ Kazmir said.

Philadelphia could have romped but went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 runners. Their other run even scored on an out, an RBI grounder by Carlos Ruiz.

‘‘It’s better to come up empty with a lot of guys in scoring position than not have any at all,’’ Utley said.

Seeking the city’s first major title since the NBA’s 76ers in 1983, Philadelphia had six days off after beating the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL pennant, while the Rays didn’t finish off the Boston Red Sox until Game 7 on Sunday night.

Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia’s leadoff batter, flied to right fielder Ben Zobrist, who has made just two regular-season career appearances at the position. But then Jayson Werth walked and Utley, after fouling off a bunt attempt, homered on a 2-2 pitch, sending the ball into the right-field seats and becoming the 34th player to homer in his first Series at-bat.

Only 13 of Utley’s 33 homers during the regular season were against lefties, and Kazmir allowed just one homer to a left-handed batter in 131 at-bats, with Boston’s David Ortiz connecting Sept. 15.

‘‘Fastball, middle of the plate,’’ Utley said. ‘‘I was just trying to put the ball into play.’’

Mitch Williams, an analyst for Comcast SportsNet, started pumping a fist and cheering. The Phillies’ last World Series appearance ended when Williams allowed Joe Carter’s game-ending homer in Game 6 at Toronto.

Philadelphia had a chance to pad the lead in the second following two walks, but Upton, the center fielder, made a nifty one-hop throw to the plate on Rollins’ fly to short center, and catcher Dioner Navarro applied the tag on Shane Victorino for the inning-ending out.

Tampa Bay loaded the bases with one out in the third on two singles around a walk. But third baseman Pedro Feliz went to his left for an impressive pickup on Upton’s grounder and started an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.

‘‘Definitely the kind of momentum swing into our favor,’’ Hamels said. ‘‘If they can load the bases with less than two outs and not be able to score, then you definitely have the upper hand.’’

Ruiz hit an RBI grounder in the fourth following Victorino’s leadoff single, but Crawford’s homer on a hanging breaking ball cut the lead to a 3-1 in the bottom half.

Akinori Iwamura reached down for an outside 3-2 pitch and drove an opposite-field RBI double to left-center in the fifth, and Upton followed with a foul pop that Ryan Howard reached into the stands to grab — veteran fans at places such as Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium likely would have not allowed the first baseman to make the play.

Carlos Pena reached leading off the sixth when Howard allowed his grounder to pop off his glove and midsection for an error. But Hamels froze Pena with a pickoff throw and he was easily thrown out at second. Rays manager Joe Maddon screamed unsuccessfully for a balk call, maintaining Hamels’ foot landed too far toward the plate.

‘‘I thought it was clearly a balk, and obviously you can’t argue a balk,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘You get kicked out arguing a balk. What I did was even inappropriate.’’

Said Hamels: ‘‘Yeah, he was out. That’s all I can say. ‘‘

Utley singled with one out in the seventh, stole second and took third on a wild pitch. But J.P. Howell fanned Howard and, after Pat Burrell walked, Grant Balfour struck out Victorino.

‘‘It’s never easy when you’re down 0-1,’’ Shields said. ‘‘But I think we’ve been pretty resilient all year long.’’

Notes: It was the first Series game on artificial turf since 1993 — the Phillies’ previous one. … The Rays played an exaggerated shift on Utley and Howard, often putting three infielders on the right side. … The Phillies also won the opener in 1980 against Kansas City, starting them to their only title since beginning play in 1883. Philadelphia also started the Series with wins in 1915 and 1983, but dropped the first game in 1950 and 1993.