In one of the strangest endings to a baseball season in history, the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series tonight by outlasting the upstart Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 in the completion of a Game 5 that started more than 72 hours earlier. The rain that had kept the teams off the field since Sunday night was gone along with the majority of the wind, but the chill remained as Philly stepped to the plate in the bottom of the sixth with the game tied at two and the franchise’s first title since 1980 in sight. The teams traded runs before Pedro Feliz’ one-out RBI single in the bottom of the seventh gave the Phillies a 4-3 lead they’d never relinquish. Appropriately it was Brad Lidge - who didn’t blow a single save all season - that struck out Rays pinch-hitter Eric Hinske to put an exclamation point on Philadelphia’s long-awaited championship season.
Once the game resumed, it didn’t take long for Philly to reclaim the lead. Geoff Jenkins pinch-hit for starting pitcher Cole Hamels and opened the bottom of the sixth with a double to deep right off Tampa Bay reliever Grant Balfour. After Jimmy Rollins sacrificed Jenkins over to third, Jayson Werth delivered a bloop single to center that scored Jenkins to put the Phillies up 3-2. Lefty J.P. Howell came on and fanned Chase Utley and got Ryan Howard to pop up to keep the Rays’ deficit at one run.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel opted for setup ace Ryan Madson in the top of the seventh, and the right-hander struck out Dioner Navarro for the first out. Rocco Baldelli then stepped to the plate and launched the first pitch he saw into the left field seats to tie the game at three. Jason Bartlett followed with a single to left to keep the rally alive. Rays manager Joe Maddon elected to have Howell bat for himself, and the reliever responded with a well-executed sac bunt that pushed Bartlett up to second with two down. Lefty J.C. Romero came on to pitch to Akinori Iwamura, who grounded his second offering up the middle to the left side of second base. Utley dived and gloved it and faked a throw to first, realizing he would not be able to get Iwamura. Meanwhile, Bartlett charged around third and toward the plate. Utley threw a strike to catcher Carlos Ruiz, who applied the tag just before the headfirst-sliding Bartlett touched home.
Maddon’s decision to keep Howell on the mound immediately backfired when he allowed Pat Burrell to double high off the center field wall to open the bottom of the seventh. Eric Bruntlett came on to pinch run for Burrell, and Maddon summoned righty submariner Chad Bradford from the bullpen to pitch to Shane Victorino. The Flyin’ Hawaiian twice failed to sacrifice Burrell over to third before getting the job done with a groundout to second. Feliz followed with a single to center that put the Phillies up once again, this time by a 4-3 score. Bradford escaped further damage by getting Ruiz and Romero to ground into consecutive fielder’s choices.
Carl Crawford looked to have started a Rays rally when he led off the top of the eighth with a single to center field. That feeling was short-lived, however, as Romero got the next Tampa Bay hitter, B.J. Upton, to ground into a 6-4-3 double play on the very first pitch of his at bat. After the following batter, Carlos Pena, lined out to left, the Rays found themselves down to their final three outs, uneasy in the knowledge that Philly would send “Lights Out” Lidge to the mound to try and secure them.
Rookie phenom David Price came on and pitched around a two-out walk to keep the Phillies off the board in the bottom of the eighth, setting the stage for Lidge, who had yet to blow a save in 47 opportunities this year, counting the postseason. The Phillies closer got the dangerous Evan Longoria to pop out to second for the first out of the ninth, but Dioner Navarro made things interesting with a broken-bat single to right. Maddon upped the ante by sending the speedy Fernando Perez in to pinch-run for his catcher and having switch-hitter Ben Zobrist bat for the right-handed Baldelli. After Perez stole second to get into scoring position with one out, Zobrist hit a sinking liner to right that Werth snared for the second out. With the Rays down to their last out and Bartlett due up, Maddon opted for Eric Hinske, who smacked 20 homers in the regular season and had gone deep in his lone World Series at bat. Hinske was no match for Lidge, who fanned him on three pitches for the series-clinching out.
Having secured the title and simultaneously completed his perfect season, the closer dropped to his knees in celebration as his teammates - all of them now lifetime members of the 2008 World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies - joyfully charged toward the pitcher’s mound for a dogpile. At the same time, millions of long-suffering Phillies - at Citizens Bank Park fans, at local watering holes or at home with friends and family - reveled in a moment 28 years in the making. Cole Hamels, who earned the win in Game 1 and pitched well during the first incarnation of Game 5 back on Sunday evening, took MVP honors. It was a memorable run for the storybook Rays, but in the end, 2008 will go down as the year of the Fightin’ Phils.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and mayor of the National Pastime web community. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Photo by The Associated Press