ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - There is no telling how this journey will end, but this is the start a championship-starved franchise and city had been searching and hoping and praying for.
The Phillies waited 15 years, and seven long days, to play again in the World Series. They didn't disappoint as Cole Hamels and Chase Utley seized the moment in a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
Hamels continued to elevate his status as one of the best big-game pitchers in Phillies history. Utley came through with a two-run home run in the first inning to silence a boisterous crowd.
"Maybe he doesn't even realize where he is right now," lefthander Jamie Moyer said of Hamels. "But at some point he will."
"If you want to take the wind out of the sails and shut up the cowbells, get some home runs," manager Charlie Manuel said of Utley. "That will do it. Except at Citizens Bank Park. If you hit enough there they ring the bell. They ring the Liberty Bell."
It was the Phillies' first World Series victory since Game 5 of the 1993 World Series.
It was big. It is more than just a cliché to say it is important to win Game 1. The Game 1 winner has won the World Series 63 times (61.2 percent), including 10 of the last 11 and 17 of the last 20.
The Phillies entered the series with a six-day layoff between Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Oct. 15 and Game 1. Much had been made about it because the Boston Red Sox swept Colorado in the 2007 World Series after the Rockies had a similar layoff. The same thing happened to the Detroit Tigers in the 2006 World Series.
Utley's homer ended such concern.
Rays lefthander Scott Kazmir walked Jayson Werth with one out when Utley stepped up. He tried to bunt the first pitch down the third-base line because the Rays had a defensive shift on him. But fortunately for Utley, he bunted the ball foul, allowing him to swing away the rest of the at-bat.
He crushed a 2-2 fastball into the right-field stands for a two-run homer to hand the Phillies a 2-0 lead.
"I guess it turned out pretty well," Utley said. "I figured with a guy on first and one out, I'd try to create something at that point."
The Phillies, who left 11 runners on base, scored another run in the fourth to make it 3-0.
That's all they would get.
It's all Hamels and the bullpen would need. Hamels allowed five hits, two runs and two walks in seven innings. He struck out five. He got B.J. Upton to hit into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the third inning. With the tying run on second with two outs in the fifth, he got Upton to foul out to Ryan Howard, with Howard making a great catch leaning into the stands.
"I knew he was good, but not that good," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said of Hamels. "He did what a No. 1 starter in the World Series is supposed to do."
Hamels is 4-0 in the postseason.
"I've done better," he said.
Maybe the best is yet to come.
The franchise and city hope so.
The Phillies' starters are 4-2 in the opening game of the World Series, starting with Grover Cleveland Alexander's 3-1 win over the Boston Red Sox in 1915. Jim Konstanty was unlucky in a 1-0 loss to the Yankees in 1950, and Bob Walk was very fortunate in the 7-6 win over the Kansas City Royals in 1980. John Denny outdueled Scott McGregor for a 2-1 win in 1983 but Curt Schilling got shelled in the 8-5 loss to the Blue Jays and Al Leiter in 1993. Here's how Cole Hamels fared last night against Scott Kazmir :
1915 Alexander, W 9 8 1 1 2 6 0
1950 Konstanty, L 8 4 1 1 1 4 0
1980 Walk, W 7 8 6 6 3 3 0
1983 Denny, W 7.2 5 1 1 0 5 1
1993 Schilling, L 6.1 8 7 6 2 3 2
2008 Hamels, W 7 5 2 2 2 4 1