Rays Host Phillies For Game 1 Of World Series

The World Series begins Wednesday night in St. Petersburg, Fla., and it's shaping up as a contest between the old and the new. The Tampa Bay Rays are a young team that just this year posted their first winning season. They face the Philadelphia Phillies, a club with roots going back more than a hundred years.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The World Series begins tonight, and it's shaping up as a contest between the old and the new. The new, the Tampa Bay Rays. They're a young team that just this year posted a first winning season. They face the Philadelphia Phillies, a club with roots going back more than a hundred years. NPR's Mike Pesca is covering this series for us. Good morning, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hello, Renee.

MONTAGNE: OK. So what about it, young and old? I mean, if that's an appropriate way of looking at it. Is that how you're seeing it?

PESCA: It is. It is. The Rays themselves, the members of the Rays, are about 27 years on average. They're one of the youngest teams in baseball. But if we talk about the franchise itself, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were founded 10 years ago, but they sort of exorcised the devil. They dropped the devil part of their name. So, this is the first year a team named the Rays have ever played. And it was also the first time they ever had a winning season.

And here they are, their only winning season, and they find themselves in the World Series. Before this year, it should also be noted that not only did they always lose, they always came in last place. Except there was one year, 2004, they managed to come in second to last place, and, oh, the Rays fans pined for those glory days of 2004 when they came in second to last.

MONTAGNE: Well, obviously until this year, that tough, though, to be a Rays fan.

PESCA: Well, no one really knows, because the concept of a Rays fan was mostly theoretical before this year. They always trailed the league in attendance. But here is the important thing. The Rays have an owner, a relatively new owner, and a very smart management team. They invested wisely in young players. And you've got to figure that they would invest wisely because a lot of the ownership has a background working for Goldman Sachs, which has been in the news a lot trying to save the country this week, in these last few weeks.

So, the Rays would stockpile draft picks, they made good trades. And coming into this year, the smart baseball observers would say, you know, this might sound crazy, but one day in a couple of years, the Rays will probably have a winning record. What was really surprising is that they put it all together this year. And paying their team less money than every other team in the American League, they're representing that league in the World Series.

MONTAGNE: And the Phillies, of course the much more established franchise, what about them?

PESCA: The fighting Phils have been the floundering Phils for most of their 125 years. And they did win a World Series in 1980. But that was their only World Series ever. Looked at historically, the Phillies are really the worst team in baseball. They have over 10,000 all-time losses. And believe me, Philadelphians, the fans of the Phillies, will not let you forget that.

MONTAGNE: Well then, is this a good match?

PESCA: It is because the Phillies have a lot of experience, and their line-up is fearsome, and they have last year's MVP, Jimmy Rollins. And the anchor of their line-up is Ryan Howard, a power hitter, could very well win this year's MVP. But the Rays have that certain something. They don't really have any pressure. They're not supposed to be here. They've been playing really well. They've been winning whenever they're supposed to be losing. And just if you look at the teams who act like they're under the least amount of pressure, those are usually the teams that have the most success in the postseason. So, it should be a really good series.

MONTAGNE: Mike, thanks a lot.

PESCA: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Mike Pesca. He's covering this year's World Series which begins tonight in St. Petersburg.

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