PHILADELPHIA | There is a curious alignment to the championship flags flapping above Ashburn Alley at Citizens Bank Park. Four of the Philadelphia Phillies‘ division championship banners are on the left, innocently displayed in white. Just above the two bullpens, blaring in red, is the team’s lone world championship banner from 1980.
The pennants commemorating the five times in the team’s 126-year history that it reached the World Series but didn’t win it? They’re tucked in right field, obscured from view in much of the stadium in a kind of Freudian repression for a town that has a serious complex about finishing second.
The blue National League championship banner with “2008” on it has sat by itself for the month of October, isolated in limbo as stadium workers waited to see whether they will move it out of sight with the other runner-up years or proudly replace it with a red banner.
It has been there the last two days, whipped by wind and soaked by rain as the city cooled its heels, waiting for the rain-delayed end of Game 5 and wondering whether the two-day stall since the beginning of Monday’s game was some sort of a sick joke.
It wasn’t. The blue banner is turning red, and the Phillies are champions.
The team ended a 28-year drought and cured a town scarred by near-misses, finishing a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays and winning the World Series in five games.
“We’re definitely happy. I can’t wait to see everybody on Broad Street [for a victory parade],” said center fielder Shane Victorino, draped like the rest of his teammates in one of the Hawaiian lais his parents brought from his native state. “They’re hungry. They’re passionate fans. The second we ran out of the dugout tonight, you could tell the excitement was in the air. They were ready to win.”
It was the first championship for the town since the Philadelphia 76ers won the NBA championship in 1983, and it came after Game 5 was resumed Wednesday night.
Two days of rain gave way to chilly conditions and even a few flurries before the game. The pregame run-up felt at once normal and out of sorts.
Eventual World Series MVP Cole Hamels was announced as Philadelphia’s starting pitcher, then substituted for minutes later. The Rays brought reliever Grant Balfour back to complete the assignment he had started Monday but warmed up a slew of other options to match up with a trio of possible Phillies pinch hitters: Geoff Jenkins, Greg Dobbs and Chris Coste.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel told Jenkins about 10 minutes before the game he was the pick. And the oddities now in the past, it was him against Balfour, leading off with 3 1/2 innings to play.
“If they had brought in a left-handed pitcher, I already made my mind up I was going to let him hit because he’s capable of hitting the ball out of the yard,” Manuel said.
The left-hander ripped a 3-2 pitch for a double off the scoreboard to right-center, violently pumping his fist as he arrived at second.
“I didn’t feel pressure, like when you know you hit a home run,” Jenkins said. “But I knew I hit it well enough to try to get in that gap.”
Jimmy Rollins sacrificed him to third. Then, with Tampa Bay’s infield in, Jayson Werth dropped a blooper just past Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura, and not 10 minutes into the restarted game, the Phillies had regained a one-run lead they lost a half-inning ago Monday.
It was gone two batters later.
After Ryan Madson struck out Dioner Navarro on a nasty 94 mph sinker, Rocco Baldelli turned on a similar pitch and launched it into the left-field seats.
Jason Bartlett singled, pitcher J.P. Howell sacrificed him to second and Madson was replaced by J.C. Romero.
The Phillies scored on a one-out single from Pedro Feliz in the seventh, and they had a 4-3 lead, tantalizingly close to the range of closer Brad Lidge, who hadn’t blown a save all season.
The Rays tried to stem the tide with prodigal left-hander David Price, who finished their Game 7 victory in the ALCS.
“David has done well, but I didn’t want to put all that on him,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “We almost built to the point where I had imagined prior to the game. It just didn’t want to work out.”
But by then, it was too late. J.C. Romero survived the eighth, and the Rays’ only method of survival was to make Lidge blink.
He didn’t. The right-hander closed his 48th save. He struck out pinch hitter Eric Hinske to end the game, collapsed to his knees and thrust both arms to the sky, the burden of a city replaced by sheer joy.
“I don’t know if I believe it yet,” said 45-year-old pitcher Jamie Moyer, who grew up just north of Philadelphia. “It’s only going to get sweeter the next couple days.”