Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and the rest of the Philadelphia Phillies shook off a week's worth of waiting and turned it into a World Series win.
Hamels escaped trouble to win his fourth postseason start, Utley hit a two-run homer in the first inning and the Phillies beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 in the opener Wednesday night.
The worst-to-first Rays flopped in their first game in baseball's ultimate event, managing just five hits.
The Phillies showed little evidence of rust. They'll try to make it two in a row at Tropicana Field when Brett Myers pitches against James Shields in Game 2 Thursday night.
The team that won the opener has captured the Series 63 of 103 times, including 10 of the last 11. But the team with home-field advantage has taken 18 of the last 22 titles.
"It's huge," Phillies closer Brad Lidge said. "You try and downplay it, but obviously you're coming into a place like this, you want to make sure you get the first game, especially because you got your ace on the mound. It's really important to do that."
Hamels, MVP of the NL championship series, improved to 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA this postseason. He had only a pair of 1-2-3 innings, but the composed 24-year-old left-hander allowed two runs and five hits in seven innings.
Ryan Madson pitched a perfect eighth. Lidge worked the ninth for his 47th save in 47 chances this year, silencing the Rays and their cowbell-clanging fans.
Carl Crawford homered for Tampa Bay, but playoff stars B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria went a combined 0-for-8. The Rays didn't get a hit over the final four innings.
Scott Kazmir, selected two picks ahead of Hamels in the first round of the 2002 amateur draft, struggled with his control and gave up three runs, six hits and four walks in six innings.
The Phillies could have romped but went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position. Their other run even scored on an out, an RBI grounder by Carlos Ruiz.
Philadelphia, seeking the city's first major title since the NBA's 76ers in 1983, had six days off after beating the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL pennant, while the Rays didn't finish off the Boston Red Sox until Game 7 on Sunday night.
The Phillies also won the opener in 1980 against Kansas City, starting them to their only title since starting play in 1883. Philadelphia also started the Series with wins in 1915 and 1983, but dropped the first game in 1950 and 1993.
After 10 seasons as a doormat, the Rays became the surprise of baseball, toppling the defending champion Red Sox and the Yankees to win the AL East, then beating the White Sox and Boston in the playoffs. The crowd of 40,783 at the Trop wasn't given much to cheer about, though, with Crawford homering in the fourth and Akinori Iwamura hitting an RBI double in the fifth.
Cowbells were sounding and fans were petting the cownose Rays in a tank in right-center during Tropicana Field's first World Series game.
There was a minor league feel, with the public-address announcer hawking season tickets for 2009, an on-field fan contest in left field during the middle of the fifth inning and a trivia contest to give away a video game after the sixth.
Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia's leadoff batter, flied to right fielder Ben Zobrist, who has made just two regular-season career appearances at the position. He started and played six innings against Texas on May 28 and subbed there for one inning on Sept. 26 against Detroit, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
When Zobrist walked into the clubhouse and saw his name in the lineup, he texted his wife: "Hey, I'm starting."
But then Jayson Werth walked and Utley homered on a 2-2 pitch, sending the ball into the right-field seats and becoming the 34th player to homer in his first Series at-bat. Only 13 of Utley's 33 homers during the regular season were against lefties, and Kazmir allowed just one homer to a left-handed batter in 131 at-bats, with Boston's David Ortiz connecting Sept. 15.
"Fastball, middle of the plate," Utley said. "I was just trying to put the ball into play."
Mitch Williams, an analyst for Comcast SportsNet, started pumping a fist and cheering. The Phillies' last World Series appearance ended when Williams allowed Joe Carter's game-ending homer in Game 6 at Toronto.
Philadelphia had a chance to pad the lead in the second following two walks, but center fielder B.J. Upton made a nifty one-hop throw to the plate on Rollins' fly to short center, and catcher Dioner Navarro applied the tag on Shane Victorino for the inning-ending out.
Tampa Bay loaded the bases with one out in the third on two singles around a walk. But third baseman Pedro Feliz went to his left for an impressive pickup on Upton's grounder and started an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
Ruiz hit an RBI grounder in the fourth following Victorino's leadoff single, but Crawford's homer on a hanging breaking ball cut the lead to a 3-1 in the bottom half, giving fans a reason to ring those bells. As he rounded the bases, lights flashed on the three outer catwalks that ring the stadium under the roof of the quirky dome. Iwamura reached down for an outside 3-2 pitch and drove an opposite-field RBI double to left-center in the fifth, and Upton followed with a foul pop that Ryan Howard reached into the stands to grab -- veteran fans at places such as Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium likely would have not allowed the first baseman to make the play.
Carlos Pena reached leading off the sixth when Howard allowed his grounder to pop off his glove and midsection for an error. But Hamels froze Pena with a pickoff throw and he was easily thrown out at second. Rays manager Joe Maddon screamed unsuccessfully for a balk call, maintaining Hamels' foot landed too far toward the plate.
Utley singled with one out in the seventh, stole second and took third on a wild pitch. But J.P. Howell fanned Howard and, after Pat Burrell walked, Grant Balfour struck out Victorino.