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How the Phillies pulled it off

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Dayn Perry

Dayn Perry is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com. His second book, "Reggie Jackson: The Life and Thunderous Career of Baseball's Mr. October," is available from HarperCollins Publishers. Read more of his work at the NotGraphs blog.

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The Philadelphia Phillies, for just the second time in their 125-year history, are world champs. The American League may have been the better league, and the Tampa Bay Rays may have been the better team, but it's the Phillies who are left hoisting the trophy and spraying the bubbly. Fans of the game--some joyous over this turn of events, some disappointed, and some merely stunned--are left wondering how it all came to pass. How, after all, did the Phillies pull off the upset? Here's how ...

1. Philly's dominance at home

During the regular season, the Phillies were a robust 48-33 at Citizens' Bank Park, but in the playoffs they outdid themselves. In fact, they became the first team in baseball history to go 7-0 at home during the post-season. Take care of business to such an extent, and you're not going to lose many series.

2. Cole Hamels

If the "we should probably build an ark" rains hadn't interrupted Game 5, then Cole Hamels might have become the first pitcher in the Wild Card era to go 5-0 in the post-season. Instead, he must console himself with the World Series MVP award. Something tells us he'll make it. A 1.80 in the 2008 post-season tells the story for Hamels.

3. The Philly bullpen

You can't really give an MVP award to an entire bullpen, but the Philly relief corps was utterly dominating in the World Series. They combined for 1.50 ERA against the Rays and tallied 14 strikeouts in 12.0 innings. Heck, Ryan Madson was the only Philly reliever to surrender a run in the World Series. The bullpen is especially important in the post-season, and the Philly pen stepped up in a big way. 4. Joe Maddon's tactical errors Maddon's been a great leader for Tampa this season, and he'll rightfully win AL Manager-of-the-Year honors. However, his decisions in the World Series--particularly with regard to bullpen usage--were generally unwise. First, Maddon made the mistake of starting Rocco Baldelli against a right-handed starter in Game 2 and Gabe Gross against a lefty starter in Game 3 (Baldelli and Gross were a combined 0-for-5). Then he was far too reluctant to use one of his quality lefties in his bullpen. In particular, he allowed Chase Utley and Ryan Howard to bat against right-hander Matt Garza in the sixth inning of Game 3. The result? Back-to-back home runs. Where was J.P. Howell, David Price, or Trever Miller? Then in the fourth inning of Game 4, Maddon let Howard bat against a visibly laboring--and right-handed--Andy Sonnanstine (more on him below). The result? A three-run bomb that effectively ended the game and the series. (And all of this is to say nothing of his puzzling decision to let J.P. Howell hit in Game 5.)

5. The heart of the Tampa order

In the regular season, Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena teamed up for 58 homers. In the World Series, however, the duo went 3-for-27 with zero home runs. Credit the Philly pitching staff if you like, or blame Longoria and Pena for slumping when they could least afford to do so.

6. Andy Sonnanstine's layoff

Prior to his critical start in Game 4, Sonnanstine hadn't seen game action in 12 days. Needless to say, that's an interminable layoff for a pitcher, and he was predictably rusty. Sonnanstine lasted just 4.0 innings, gave up three runs, and was uncharacteristically wild. It's the latter point that suggests Sonnanstine simply wasn't himself on that night.

7. Ryan Howard keeps it up

The home run and the RBI were Howard's calling cards during the regular season (he paced the NL in both categories), and that was also the case against Tampa. For the Series, Howard tallied three spanks and six RBI to lead all comers. The big man was the big man once again.

8. The unlikely hero — Carlos Ruiz

Let's be frank about this: Ruiz and not Hamels should've been the Series MVP. For the series, Ruiz batted .375, slugged .688, and drew four walks, all while manning the most demanding position on the diamond. That's especially nifty considering that Ruiz hit just .219 in the regular season. Unlikely heroes are part of the fabric of the post-season, and it's hard to fine one more unlikely than Ruiz.

9. The Tampa rotation

The Rays' rotation was a source of strength during the regular season, but they didn't do the job in the World Series. In particular, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, and the aforementioned Andy Sonnanstine combined for an ERA of 4.91. That was out of character, but perhaps pitching so deep into October began to wear onthe young trio.

10. Good 'ol postseason randomness

It happens. In the playoffs, you have a small sample size of games, and accordingly strange things can happen. Sometimes the best team wins the World Series, and other times they don't. Tampa Bay won more games in the regular season despite playing a vastly tougher schedule. But the Phillies are the ones left standing. That's a nature of October baseball, and it's a good thing that so often our expectations are defied. Just as they were this season.
Tagged: Phillies, Rays, Trever Miller, Carlos Pena, Ryan Madson, Chase Utley, Scott Kazmir, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, J.P. Howell, Matt Garza, Evan Longoria, Andy Sonnanstine, David Price

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