10/23/08 3:21 AM EST
Spin Forward: Rays must throw strikes
Starters need to keep Phils out of dangerous hitters' counts
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
After seven grinding days of hard-fought at-bats against the picky, patient Red Sox, Tampa Bay found itself dealing with a Phillies team that took a similar approach in Game 1 of the World Series.
The Phillies took their walks when they were available, fought off two-strike pitches until a hittable offering revealed itself and made the Rays throw 165 pitches in nine innings. Starter Scott Kazmir alone threw 110 in six innings.
And the Phils will be looking to do it again on Thursday night, in Game 2.
"We wanted to make him throw some pitches," Phillies hitting coach Milt Thompson said. "That's a key. You've got to make the pitcher work."
Asked if the approach will change against Rays Game 2 starter James Shields, who has much better command than Kazmir, Thompson didn't hesitate.
"No," he said. "You've just got to make the guys work. That's all you can do."
Tampa Bay will have to throw strikes to win this series. Not fat, middle-of-the-plate strikes, but quality strikes. Rays pitchers will need to get ahead, not only to avoid walks -- they issued six, five unintentional, on Wednesday -- but to prevent dangerous hitters' counts. Like the Red Sox, the Phillies are a take-and-rake team.
"For the most part, they're patient," Kazmir said. "But they have some good hitters on their team. They have some guys in the middle of the lineup who can do some damage. And you just have to not let those guys beat you."
The scary thing for the Rays must be that the Phils won even without taking advantage of the opportunities they created. Philadelphia went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 men. The Phillies took good at-bats even in scoring situations, but the ball just didn't fall in the biggest situations.
If Tampa Bay should provide that many chances on Thursday, it almost certainly won't be such a close contest.
"You wouldn't do it that way if you had a choice," Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "But it worked. That's been our recipe. One big hit, and we've been able to hold teams down. Tomorrow, I'm sure it will be different."
One way it will be different is with the starting pitcher. Kazmir had one of the highest walk rates in the American League, while Shields had one of the lowest. Shields consistently pounds the strike zone, creating a different kind of challenge from the effectively wild Kazmir.
But the Phils will keep being the Phils. That doesn't mean they'll go to the plate looking to take a walk. It just means that they'll lay off pitchers' pitches and swing at hittable pitches.
"We tried to get [Kazmir's] pitch count up," Philadelphia center fielder Shane Victorino said. "That's something that you wanted to do. I'm not saying we weren't trying to be aggressive. We were trying to go up there with an approach to swing the bat."
That's what they did, and it's who they are. It won't go away on Thursday.
"They were pretty good with two strikes," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "The thing I noticed about them today, having seen them for the very first time, is they're really fundamental, and I thought they had some really good two-strike at-bats."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.