Thomas Boswell: A Full Night's Worth of Drama Gives Phillies a World Series Title That Feels as Good as Their First
Once, 28 years ago, Tug McGraw heaved his glove high in the night sky at old Veterans Stadium to celebrate his final strike to Willie Wilson of Kansas City. On Wednesday night at sparkling Citizens Bank Park, Brad Lidge, perfect all season with 48 straight saves, had an equal, though opposite, outpouring of emotion, dropping to his knees after his last strike to the Rays' Eric Hinske made the Phillies 4-3 winners of this fifth and final World Series game.
Finally, at 9:58 p.m., as a packed house that had stood all night, swathed in red and screaming, paid obeisance, the Phillies piled atop Lidge, the second team since 1883 with "Phillies" on their chests to be the best team in all of baseball.
Three innings of baseball on a freezing, windy night should not produce a Series jewel. But the Phillies and Rays turned a mess into a mini-masterpiece, transforming a suspended game into a tense, 79-minute suspension of disbelief. First Philadelphia, then counterpunching Tampa Bay and finally the victorious Phils delivered clutch hits or improvisational plays.
"When it was over, I kind of laughed. I thought, 'We just won the World Series!' " Phils Manager Charlie Manuel said of the instant when he realized that Pedro Feliz's RBI single in the seventh inning had made a winner of reliever J.C. Romero.
On the field, however, amid his celebrating team, Manuel showed the true animating emotion of this often spurned sports town, which had not won a world title in any pro sport for 25 years, telling the crowd: "This is for Philadelphia. Who's the world champion now?"
For the Rays, a dream ended -- of becoming the first team in any American pro sports league to go from the worst to the very best in just one season. However, as Manager Joe Maddon put it, " 'The mind, once stretched, can never return to its original form.' I like that expression. Our minds have been stretched. Our players will never be satisfied again with less than winning."
Each half-inning of the partial game constituted its own mini-drama as the passionate crowd, waving white towels, wearing red stocking caps and frequently jumping up and down to stay warm, delighted in the torturous ebb and flow.
In the most peculiar beginning of any Series night, this evening began in the bottom of the sixth with the score tied, 2-2. The first batter, pinch hitter Geoff Jenkins, crushed a double off the right-center field wall near the 398-foot sign off Grant Balfour, two feet beyond the lunge of right fielder Rocco Baldelli.
After moving to third on a sacrifice bunt, Jenkins scored on a bloop single over a drawn-in infield, the ball popping out of the glove of brilliant defensive second baseman Akinori Iwamura who, for the fifth time in this Series, either made an error or failed to make exactly the kind of gem for which he is known.
The Rays' Baldelli responded with a crash in the top of the seventh, crushing a solo homer to left to tie the score at 3. The play of the night and of this entire Series, however, came later in the inning. After quick Jason Bartlett singled and was bunted to second base, Iwamura slapped an infield single behind second base to Chase Utley, who made a sprinting backhand grab. That should have ended the play.