World Series Game 1: Phillies Shade Rays

Game 1 in the World Series goes to the Philadelphia Phillies. They beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 in Wednesday night's opener in St. Petersburg, Fla. Game 2 will be played Thursday, also at Tropicana Field.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

In Game 1 of the World Series last night, the Philadelphia Phillies jumped out to an early lead by jumping out to an early lead. NPR's Mike Pesca was covering Game 1 in St. Petersburg. He joins us now. Good morning, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: So how did it go?

PESCA: Well, the fans in St. Petersburg went bonkers. You have to remember that this is not just Tampa Bay's first World Series. This is their first winning season. And they hadn't come close up to this point. They would lose 99 or a hundred games in most years, and then this year they came into the season with a little bit of promise. They started saying, hey, we're actually pretty good. Hey, we're going to the playoffs. Hey, we're winning in the playoffs. Hey, we're in the World Series.

And at each step it got louder and louder until inside the dome that they call home, you couldn't even hear the guy next to you. And chances were that guy next to you had a cowbell. They have this cowbell thing going on in St. Petersburg, which sounds cute. But by sounds I mean it appears cute because it sounds just deafeningly loud.

INSKEEP: Mike, Mike, I hate to interrupt the revelry there, but is this a good moment to mention that the Rays lost the first game three to two and, in fact, they've lost three of their last four games?

PESCA: Yeah, you know, we could dwell on that if you want. It turns out that for all this nuttiness inside the dome, the team that was really undisturbed were the Philadelphia Phillies. They had won last on October 15 against the Dodgers. And people thought they could be rusty coming in. People also thought that they might be intimidated. I mean, this is, like I said, a very loud surroundings. But there they were. They answered whatever questions were lingering right in the first inning. Chase Utley hits a two-run home run to right field. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said after the game that that's exactly the right prescription. You jump on the home team early.

Mr. CHARLIE MANUEL (Manager, Philadelphia Phillies): I can't think of no other way to quiet them down. You know, that's how you do it. If you want to take the wind out of their sails and you want to quiet them down, you want to shut the cowbells up, hit some home runs. That will do it.

PESCA: It didn't quiet them down, we should note. They cheered until the ninth inning. But the Phils added a run in the fourth. The fans were still into it, but the same cannot really be said of the Rays' bats. They scratched out runs in the fourth and fifth. No more runs after that. It was a three-two game.

INSKEEP: What happened to the Rays' bats?

PESCA: The big hitters in the Rays' lineups had a lot of O-fers. So the question is, was it the Phillies' pitching or the Rays' lack of hitting? I'm going to go with Cole Hamels who was the Phillies starter. He was really good. Seven innings, only two runs allowed. You know, it's just a simple formula. You go out there, you throw a lot of strikes, and you induce the Rays to miss and to hit it weakly. Tampa Bay Manager Joe Maddon tipped his hat to Hamels.

Mr. JOE MADDON (Manager, Tampa Bay Rays): It was a wonderful game. They beat us on a home run in the first inning, primarily. Our bullpen did a wonderful job once again. It was just a really well-played game. They got us early and held up.

PESCA: Maddon has this reputation of being a super-smart guy. He sure is. He also wears these prominent eyeglasses to convince people he's really smart. But that's a simple explanation. But that is a good explanation. Good pitching, just enough hitting, you'll win a lot of games that way.

INSKEEP: Eyeglasses very important. I have to mention, though - since you're talking about good Phillies pitching, Mike - I want to ask about the Rays' pitching because their series - their championship series in the league level went longer. Presumably, their arms are a little more tired. Do they have the pitchers to get through this?

PESCA: Well, their starting pitching is actually - the rotation is set and they're fine. Their pitcher last night, Scott Kazmir, did a good job. He was just out-dueled by the Phillies' Cole Hamels. And tonight, the Rays will be sending James Shields to the mound. They call him "Big Game James" because, you know, it rhymes. He's really a fine pitcher. The Phillies are sending a fine pitcher of their own, Brett Myers. It should be another really good game in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

INSKEEP: NPR's Mike Pesca, thanks very much.

PESCA: You're welcome, Steve.

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Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field: An Acquired Taste

Other than their exquisite execution on the field of play, every thing about the aesthetics of the Tampa Bay Rays is an abomination.

I'm sitting in the auxiliary press box in upper left field, in an area formerly known as the "Tampa Bay Times Party Zone" — and what a party it must have been for the majority of the regular season, as fans eschewed the plentiful lower-level seats in order to drink a beer 450 feet from home plate. Party on, indeed.

Life Gets Sweeter At Tropicana

Before the month of September, the Rays had been drawing an average of 21,000 fans a game to Tropicana Field, one of the worst figures in the majors for a first-place team.

While the team's good record was unprecedented in the Rays' history, bad attendance was a way of life.

For a decade, the Devil Rays, as they were called before this year, played in a bad stadium, before sparse crowds wearing these weird purply neon uniforms splayed with colors that in the 1970s would prompt one to futz with the UHF antenna and slap the side of the Zenith with a loafer.

The stadium is still ugly on the outside, and poorly laid out on the inside. But the Rays have embraced a new color scheme, including a light blue shirt that seems to be a favorite among female fans who were perhaps scared of the old logo that featured an aggressive sea animal, Mobula hypostoma, which Wikipedia tells us has been known to swim at very high speeds and leap out of the water.

So the shirts are nicer, the seats are full and the party zone has been replaced by auxiliary journalists — who, if for any reason the real journalists cannot fill their duties, are ready to step in and inform the public of the bullpen's ERA against left-handed batters.

So the place is a little ugly, but not quite ugly enough to be a lovable wreck.

A Stadium Turned Up To 11

I've focused on the unsightly sights of Tropicana Field. But the sounds are something to behold.

The Backstreet Boys sang the national anthem. So that happened. And the fans cheered — loudly. Then a video played on a huge monitor hung in the outfield; it began with Bill Murray exhorting the campers in Meatballs. The fans went wild.

Next up were highlights of the current season. The fans went bananas. The words came on the screen: "The Next Chapter Begins Tonight."

The fans bellowed forth in waves, each more shocking than the last, like Allied troops at Normandy. Because this is an indoor facility, the noise bounces around — it sounds like strong hail on a tin roof. To compensate, the public address system is cranked to 11 and only plays K-Tel's rousing hits of the 1980s, '90s, and 2000s. I'm talking decibels.

Cheering Like Christopher Walken

The Rays have another tradition that surely earns the opprobrium of the American Academy of Audiology. Based on a Saturday Night Live skit from 2000, Rays fans have embraced the "more cowbell" credo.

Tropicana Field is positively lousy with cowbells.

I imagine a foreman at the cowbell factory bringing his order sheets into his boss: "I can't explain it; there's a huge spike in demand on Florida's Gulf coast," he says. "The cowbell-to-cow ratio has crossed over to 2:1. Either dairy farming is on the upswing, or everyone's starting their own Grand Funk Railroad cover band."

To picture in your mind's ear what this sounds like, remember the hailstorm-on-the-tin-roof analogy? Well, imagine the hailstones being the size — and containing the clangers — of cowbells.

The Game, Under Way

The first pitch was a strike to the Phillies leadoff man, Jimmy Rollins. You'd have thought that Oprah had just given everyone in St. Petersburg a new car.

But, when Rays ace Scott Kazmir did serve Chase Utley a gift over the fat part of the plate, a funny thing happened. It turned out that there were quite a few Phillies fans in attendance, who were really loud too — and all had the good sense not to bring their own cowbells.

Which makes you wonder, were it not for this dilution of Rays fans, would the overall volume be enough to give the players an ailment worse than "turf toe" —"Trop ear"?

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