— PHILADELPHIA - Jimmy Rollins took a few steps into his secondary lead off second base, and with the crack of Ryan Howard's powerful bat looked to left field, and raised a clenched fist.
Rollins saw the same thing that 45,903 others in Citizens Bank Park on Sunday night saw, and like everybody else, couldn't help himself. Howard's towering blast was heading just inside the left-field foul pole and into the lower deck for a three-run, fourth-inning homer. And the Phillies were taking the biggest step to their first World Series championship in 28 years — and their city's first in 25 years.
After a convincing 10-2 Game 4 win, they will try to clinch another World Series title Monday in the most-envious of positions — with their ace Cole Hamels on the mound.
Here's how good Hamels has been in the postseason: Four starts, four wins, 1.55 ERA, 18 hits and eight walks in 29 innings, 27 strikeouts and a .183 opponents batting average. So it's no wonder Rollins — and everybody in a Phillies uniform, for that matter — is confident in him.
“It's hard to beat a team for a second time (in a series), but Cole looks for these moments,'' Rollins said. “I call him 'Hollywood' because when the lights are on, he's at his best. The lights will be on, and he will be ready."
Hamels allowed two runs and seven hits in seven innings in a Game 1 victory in Tampa, relying heavily on his killer changeup that threw off Rays hitters.
This time, he'll find a tired-looking lineup being dragged down by a middle-of-the-order funk that has No. 3-4 hitters Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria a combined 0-for-29 with 15 strikeouts and two RBI. Still, Hamels sees room for improvement.
“I look at myself the way I've been able to play, and I see certain areas that I can improve on, and hopefully I'll be able to do that,'' he said. “You just have to work with what you've got, and go after it.''
It will be Rays left-hander Scott Kazmir's job to make sure that doesn't happen.
“It looks like every pitch he throws, everything that he does, you feel like he's on-point right now,'' Kazmir said about Hamels. “So it feels like every pitch you throw is going to be a crucial pitch. You want to throw up zeroes (on the scoreboard). And if you don't, it's going to be tough to get a win.''
So the Rays' miracle season is down to its last gasp, and we're left to consider the ramifications of what could happen Monday night in what surely will be a sea of red insanity if it does:
RISP? Who cares about RISP?: The Phillies are on the verge of winning a World Series despite horrible numbers with runners in scoring position that usually would portend defeat.
They managed a split in Tropicana Field despite a dreadful 1-for-28 showing with 20 runners stranded — and when Howard stepped in against Game 4 losing pitcher Andy Sonnanstine, the ugly number had grown to 4-for-43. But when Howard caught a knee-high curveball from Sonnanstine, that futility went out the window along with most of the Rays' hope.
So much for records and awards: The Rays are on the verge of losing a World Series despite already having set a postseason record with 22 stolen bases, and an AL postseason record with 25 home runs, including two solo shots last night by Carl Crawford and pinch-hitter Eric Hinkse.
And there almost certainly will be an AL Rookie of Year award this winter and stardom in Evan Longoria's future. But his first World Series will have to go down as a learning experience.
Longoria's over-aggressive play on Carlos Ruiz's chopper that was heading foul helped give the Phillies' a dramatic 5-4 win in Game 3, and Longoria's offensive struggles extended another game.
Three strikeouts and a groundout left him 0-for-16 with one RBI and six strikeouts — almost matched in futility by the hitter in front of him in the order, Pena. He managed a walk in four at-bats to drop to 0 for 13 with an RBI.
Two errors by second baseman Akinori Iwamura not only led to two unearned runs, they brought the Rays' total to five in four games. This from a team that got this far with a pitching-and-defense emphasis.
But it appears as if the Rays and their $43.8-million payroll will fall a couple of games short of an amazing worst-to-first story.
“To get to this point now is something we've all wanted,'' Rollins said. “We get that one more game, we'll be happy, the city will be happy, there will be a big parade, and we'll get that monkey off our back.''