Scott Kazmir and Cole Hamels were a pair of high school pitchers brimming with promise, both slotted for the first round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft in 2002.
|Scott Kazmir will need all his big game experience [GALLO/GETTY]
When they were picked two spots apart, the comparisons were inevitable.
Six years later, they're set to square off on MLB's biggest stage on when Kazmir and the Tampa Bay Rays host the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 1 of a World Series matchup that hardly anyone expected.
Pretty heady stuff for these two budding aces, both still shy of their 25th birthday.
"I think we relate at the same level, because we've had to go through the
same experiences," Hamels said before the Phillies worked out at tricky Tropicana Field.
Their teams have something in common, too: A history of losing.
The frustrated Phillies have one championship (1980) in 125 seasons and more losses than any franchise in US professional sports.
The Rays? They didn't start play until 1998, and didn't have a winning season until this year, after they shed the Devil from their nickname.
Tampa Bay was a 200-1 shot to win the Series before the season, ahead of only Kansas City and Washington (both 250-1).
Philadelphia was 18-1.
Resilience in common
|Coach Manuel gives Hamels some advice, straight out of the manual [GALLO/GETTY]
"They're resilient. I think both clubs are similar in that way," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
"We're not going to quit. I think this year they definitely learned that.
"They're young and they're flying on a high. We're kind of settled.
"Philadelphians, they've been starving for a winner. Let me put it like this, we're due. We're here. Why not get it?"
After enduring the worst win-loss record in MLB last year, the Rays rebounded to 97-65 this year, surpassing the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees in the tough AL East with the second-lowest payroll in the majors.
They won the division to reach their first playoffs, then eliminated the Chicago White Sox, and last Sunday, the defending champion Red Sox.
For Kazmir, Carl Crawford and the rest of the young Rays who endured growing pains season after season in a nearly empty dome, their new success is all that matters.
Worth the wait
"It means everything to me, it really does, especially for this city," Kazmir said.
"It's pretty much worth the wait, you could say, for what we had to go through the past four years."
Against the Phillies, he'll have to contend with a potent lineup that includes National League MVPs Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, plus slugging second baseman Chase Utley.
No easy task for a hard-thrower who often struggles to get deep in games.
|Cool and collected - Cole Hamels [GALLO/GETTY]
But the baby-faced Kazmir is a big reason Tampa Bay has home-field advantage for the World Series, too.
He was the winning pitcher in the July 15 All-Star game at Yankee Stadium.
As for Hamels, he's been tough to hit anywhere.
After shutting down the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers in the playoffs, he's 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA in three postseason starts this year, striking out 22 and walking six in 22 dominant innings.
Perhaps his biggest concern now is a six-day layoff before his World Series debut.
He and the Phillies hope to look more rested than rusty.
After Hamels, the Phillies' rotation is Brett Myers, 45-year-old Jamie Moyer and midseason addition Joe Blanton.
Manuel said he wouldn't reveal his choice for designated hitter until Wednesday.
James Shields will start Game 2 for the Rays.
When the series shifts to Philadelphia for Game 3, it will be Matt Garza followed by Andy Sonnanstine.