The Philadelphia Phillies deserved to win this World Series. Over the course of five games, they outpitched, outhit and outsmarted the Tampa Bay Rays. They are deserving champions and merit admiration and respect for accomplishing this feat.
That said, what a bizarre way to do it.
Years from now, the 104th World Series will be remembered not because of who won but because of how they won it: with three innings of shootout-style ball, played at a breakneck pace and with enough questionable managerial decisions to keep seamheads frothing at the mouth until the day pitchers and catchers report in February.
The Phillies’ 4-3 victory against the Rays on Wednesday, in the completion of a game suspended 46 hours earlier because of rain, was as strange a thing as you ever will see on a baseball field. The 78 minutes played on a frigid night at Citizens Bank Park almost had it all: clutch hits, huge defensive plays, near-baserunning gaffes, six pitching changes and more than a few nerve-wracking moments that could have altered the outcome of the game.
In the end, Pedro Feliz’s seventh-inning RBI single up the middle was the hit that clinched the Phillies’ second championship in 126 years of baseball. Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske, and the mob scene was on in the middle of the diamond and in the stands, where one of the most cursed sporting towns in America finally could celebrate.
“It’s over, man!” Jimmy Rollins screamed as the crowd roared.
The final scene was reminiscent of numerous World Series clinchers from the past. But the scene before this game - or, to be accurate, during this game - was unlike anything most had experienced before.
Questions that never had to be considered suddenly seemed appropriate. Would there be a national anthem? Would beer sales be cut off five minutes later? Would there be a ceremonial 188th pitch?
The two managers held their customary afternoon news conferences, but the questions were anything but customary. As one reporter prefaced his inquiry to Joe Maddon: “We normally don’t have a chance to ask strategy questions during the middle of a game …”
Then there was the weather. “Game-time” temperature was 43 degrees, with a stiff wind blowing from left to right field. Rarely will you find it so frigid at a baseball game.
So into that surreal setting, the Rays and Phillies picked up where they left off. Since they started in the bottom of the sixth, there was the unusual sight of the visiting team sprinting out of the dugout to take the field - to a chorus of boos, of course.
One line of thinking coming into this was that pitching would dominate, especially with the hitters so cold and so much pressure on both sides to try to score that first run. Boy, was that wrong. The crowd barely had settled in before Geoff Jenkins crushed a double off the right-field wall, scoring moments later on Jayson Werth’s bloop single.
And just when you thought the Phillies were positioned to close it out, Rocco Baldelli turned on a Ryan Madson fastball and put it in the bleachers to tie the score again and silence everyone in the building.
Never fear, though, because Maddon remained in the Rays’ dugout, calling shots that made no sense. Why did he leave in Grant Balfour, struggling through a brutal postseason, to pitch the sixth? And then why did he leave lefty J.P. Howell in to bunt in the seventh, just so he could face right-handed slugger Pat Burrell?
Predictably, Burrell slammed a leadoff double that nearly cleared the fence in deep left-center. And when Feliz laced the go-ahead single past a drawn-in infield, the Phillies again had the lead, and Maddon’s moves looked even more suspect.
Most glaringly, why did Maddon save his secret weapon (rookie phenom David Price) until the eighth inning, when his team had fallen behind?
“If you look at our bullpen, all those guys were well-rested, and those guys have done a great job all year,” said the likable manager, who dazzled everyone with his wit and his wisdom but now has a long winter ahead of him. “David has done well, but I didn’t want to put all that on him and require him to do all that.”
Maddon’s strange moves aside, the Phillies did everything they needed to do. They weren’t necessarily baseball’s best team during the regular season, but they kept themselves in the hunt, and then turned it on when it really counted.
They are World Series champions, and they deserve that title - no matter how strange the circumstances that led to it.