By the time Philadelphia pitcher Joe Blanton crushed an Edwin Jackson pitch into the left-field bleachers in the fifth inning, it was pretty clear this wasn't going to be Tampa Bay's night. That unlikely shot gave the Phillies a 6-2 lead, which ended up a 10-2 victory in Game 4 and a 3-1 lead in the World Series.
The Phillies will send their ace, Cole Hamels, to the mound in Game 5 Monday night in Philadelphia, and if they aren't able to win the second championship in their 126-year history then or in St. Petersburg Wednesday or Thursday, it would be an epic collapse, to be talked about forever in the same sentence with the swan dive that cost the franchise the National League pennant in 1964.
The first clue that things might not go the Rays' way came in the bottom of the first inning, when Jimmy Rollins was called safe on a rundown play at third base, though replays clearly showed what had been apparent to the naked eye, that third baseman Evan Longoria had tagged him. Instead of having two on and two outs, the Phillies had the bases loaded and one out.
Pitcher Andy Sonnanstine, who'd chased Rollins after fielding Ryan Howard's comebacker, should have gone to second to start what could have been an inning-ending double play, but even that was the least of Sonnanstine's problems. He ended up walking in a run and escaping further damage, but it was a rough night for Tampa Bay's fourth starter.
In fact, I'd been all set to hammer Rays manager Joe Maddon for possibly costing his team the game by sticking with Sonnanstine for too long, continuing a practice that's been too common throughout this postseason.
The right-hander relies not on stuff but on command and control, and Sunday night he had little of either. He went to 3-0 or 3-1 counts on four of the first five hitters he faced, including a four-pitch walk to Chase Utley and the bases-loaded five-pitch walk to Pat Burrell.
Only Howard failed to work a three-ball count. He swung at the first pitch and grounded into the rundown play.
Sonnanstine settled down a bit after that, getting ahead of the next five hitters and making it through the second inning with the score still 1-0. But in the third he fell behind Utley again, this time 3-1, before Utley hit a 3-2 pitch on the ground to second baseman Akinori Iwamura, who booted it. Howard hit the first pitch again, for a single, but then Sonnanstine fell behind Burrell 3-1.
At this point, I was thinking it was time to get Sonnanstine out of there. Early wildness in a World Series game can sometimes be dismissed as jitters, and Sonnanstine had improved for a while, but now he was pitching to good hitters from bad counts for the second time. He just didn't have his best control Sunday night, and when a guy like Sonnanstine, who doesn't have a whole lot more to offer beyond control, doesn't have his best control, it's time to find another guy.
Down 2-1 in the World Series and 1-0 in Game 4 with runners on base is not the time to worry about burning out the bullpen or about guys pitching outside of their usual roles. It's time to keep things from getting out of hand. You worry about tomorrow tomorrow, especially when the day after tomorrow is a day off, and one of the relievers in your bullpen is actually a starter and a pretty good one, Edwin Jackson.
Another, David Price, is a starter who, according to the comments of Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey to Fox TV during Game 4, the Rays have designated their closer, which leads to the real possibility that the Rays could lose this Series without their most effective reliever of late throwing another pitch.
Sonnanstine threw a strike to Burrell, then got him and Shane Victorino to pop out before Pedro Feliz lined an RBI single -- on a 1-1 pitch -- for an unearned run. Sonnanstine got out of the inning, still trailing only 2-0, but it looked like Maddon was playing with fire.
In the fourth, after Rollins reached on another Iwamura error, Sonnanstine walked Werth on four pitches, struck out Utley and fell behind Howard 2-1. The next pitch is still going. It made it 5-1 Phillies.
I was going to write all that but then Jackson came in and gave up the homer to Blanton. He also gave up a ringing double to Werth, but avoided further damage in his two innings. The Phillies poured it on against the Rays pen in the eighth inning, Werth and Howard adding a pair of two-run blasts for the 10-2 final. It doesn't look like it was going to matter what Maddon did. This just wasn't the Rays' night.
Now the Rays' World Series comes down to trying to get some licks in on Hamels and hoping for the best back home in Games 6 and, with luck, 7.
It can be done but it hasn't been done much lately. In his last 10 starts of the regular season Hamels only had one bad one, when the New York Mets got to him for five runs in five innings on Sept. 7. His four postseason starts have all been great, none shorter than seven innings and none involving more than two runs allowed. He's 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA in 29 innings, with 27 strikeouts and eight walks.
The Rays will counter Hamels with Scott Kazmir, like Hamels a fine lefty, but one who's looked shaky this month, walking more and striking out fewer than he usually does.
One loss from vacation, it should be all hands on deck early and often for the Rays in Game 5. It should have been that way in Game 4 but it wasn't. Then again, it just wasn't their night.