PHILADELPHIA: For a quarter of a century, it was an agonizing cycle for Philadelphia sports fans. Hope, despair, bitterness. For 9,282 days, other places earned the right to raise banners and hoist trophies. No city with so many teams failed for so long.
Now it is over. Now it is Philadelphia's turn. A game that began with a deluge has washed away an epic drought. The Philadelphia Phillies have won the World Series.
They did it in Game 5 on Wednesday night, nipping the Tampa Bay Rays, 4-3, in the completion of the first suspended game in postseason history. It began on Monday, and rain and snow delayed it for another day. For the chronically heartbroken, it was a catharsis worth the wait.
There is company now for Bednarik, Clarke, Dr. J and Tug in the pantheon of Philadelphia champions. Make room for the 2008 Phillies, who clinched the first major pro championship for the city since May 31, 1983, when the 76ers won the NBA title.
The Phillies, a franchise that is 125 years old, had won just once before, when Tug McGraw struck out Kansas City's Willie Wilson to clinch the 1980 crown at Veterans Stadium, now a parking lot next door from Citizens Bank Park.
There was unmistakable symmetry this time: the reverse of 80 is 08, and the reverse of Tug McGraw's No. 45 is 54, the number worn by closer Brad Lidge. With two out in the ninth inning Wednesday, at 9:58 p.m., Lidge's slider buckled under Eric Hinske's bat for strike three.
Lidge dropped to his knees and threw his arms in the air. Catcher Carlos Ruiz embraced him, and Ryan Howard buried them with a charging tackle from first base. A giant championship banner fell against the center-field backdrop, and fireworks exploded in the distance.
"Being at the parade in '80 and now getting to be in a parade later this week, it's all worth it," said Jamie Moyer, the veteran starter from nearby Souderton, Pennsylvania. Moyer, 45, has been a mentor to Cole Hamels, 24, who won Game 1, went six strong innings in Game 5 and was named series most valuable player.
It was a game unlike any the players had experienced, a three-and-a-half-inning sprint with everything on the line: a championship for the Phillies, elimination for the Rays. There was consternation here over the timing of the suspension on Monday. The Phillies lost the lead in the sixth inning, when the field was a swampy mess, but the Rays did not have to pitch the bottom of the inning in the same conditions.
Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel saw an advantage for his team: the Rays had to collect 12 more outs, the Phillies only nine. It also set up the quirk of the home team's batting first and, potentially, last on the same day.
The managers had two days to chew on strategies, especially with the Phillies' Game 5 starter, Hamels, due to lead off the bottom of the sixth. He would surely be replaced for a pinch-hitter, but would the Rays leave in reliever Grant Balfour or counter with the rookie phenom David Price?
Manuel sent up Geoff Jenkins, a veteran left-hander without a hit in October. But Rays Manager Joe Maddon stuck with Balfour, even though he had warmed up a lefty, J. P. Howell, and had Price getting loose. Balfour ran the count ran full before Jenkins bashed a 93-mile-an-hour fastball to the gap in right-center.
It was 44 degrees when play resumed, with a stiff wind blowing toward right, and all of the Rays outfielders at first wore skullcaps to protect their ears and necks from the cold. Right fielder Rocco Baldelli gave chase but could not reach Jenkins's drive, sliding on the warning track as the ball fell safely. Jenkins pulled into second, punching the air.
Jimmy Rollins bunted Jenkins to third, and Jayson Werth followed with a looper into shallow center field. Second baseman Akinori Iwamura was playing in, and he had a long way to run. His back was to the plate, and there was no time to settle under the ball, which glanced off his body and fell to the grass.
Jenkins scored the go-ahead run, and Howell replaced Balfour, who returned to the dugout, slamming his glove and shouting at himself. The score stayed 3-2 at the end of six, and the Phillies gave the ball to Ryan Madson.
Manuel had reason to be confident in his bullpen. After Madson struck out his first hitter, the relievers had thrown nine innings in the World Series, allowing one run and two hits, with 13 strikeouts. But Baldelli crushed Madson's first pitch a high, inside fastball to the seats in left to tie the game. It was the first homer Madson had allowed in 25 appearances, but not his last hit.
Jason Bartlett singled, and Howell curiously stayed in to hit. He got down a sacrifice bunt, the first of his career, and Iwamura followed with a grounder to second off J. C. Romero. Positioned on the outfield grass, Chase Utley fielded the ball, faked a throw to first and, from the dirt on the shortstop side of the bag, fired a one-hop throw to the plate.
Ruiz reached behind the third-base line to corral the throw as Bartlett slid inside the line, curling his body. But Ruiz slapped a tag on his right shoulder, ending the inning with a dazzling display of defense.
Maddon's unorthodox strategy continued in the Phillies' seventh. Pat Burrell a right-handed hitter and the longest-tenured Phillie faced the left-handed Howell and clubbed a double to center, his first hit of the World Series. As Burrell left for pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett, Chad Bradford relieved Howell and got a groundout that advanced the runner.
With Bruntlett at third and one out, Maddon elected to pitch to Pedro Feliz, even though Bradford is a ground-ball pitcher and the next hitter was a slow runner. Rather than try for a double play, Maddon pulled the infield in again and took his chances with Feliz, who slapped a ground-ball single up the middle to score the go-ahead run.
With the Phillies ahead, 4-3, Romero batted for himself with two out and a man on first, tapping a grounder to end the inning. He allowed a leadoff single to Carl Crawford in the eighth, but got a grounder to short from the next hitter, the dangerous B. J. Upton.
Romero pumped his fist even before Rollins fielded the ball. He got exactly what he needed: a double play. The Phillies were four outs from the title. Carlos Peña flied to left, and Romero exulted on his way off the mound, gazing to the heavens.
Signed as a minor league free agent in June 2007, Romero was a star of the postseason, winning twice in the World Series and tossing seven and a third scoreless October innings. He is a fitting symbol for the contributions of Pat Gillick, the 71-year-old general manager who added to the Phillies' homegrown core.
Gillick plans to retire now, and he will go out a winner. As the architect of the 1993 Toronto Blue Jays, who beat the Phillies in their last World Series, Gillick played a role in this city's sporting angst. He is forgiven now, as they all are.
The Fog Bowl and Jeff Ruland, Scott Stevens and Joe Carter all of the symbols of local futility can be put to rest. The Philadelphia fan does not need them anymore as proof of a hardened soul. Hearts are light now, joy has come to Mudville. The Phillies are champions.
6 months ago