It was a symbolic popup of the highest order -- and when it skipped off Bob Boone's glove with one out and the bases loaded in the top of the ninth, every heart in town surely stopped. After 97 years of frustration, could there be yet another way for the Phils to blow an important game?
"It was Pete Rose's ball," catcher Boone said, "but I didn't see him and didn't hear him. I was listening for him to call me off, but who could hear anything out there? So I just stuck my Gold Glove out there and the ball clanked off it a bit."
From third base, Mike Schmidt had a frightening feeling when he saw Boone run under the ball near the Phillie dugout.
"I wanted Rose to take it," Schmidt said. "I saw Boonie drop one from a helicopter once in that exact same position. Opening day a couple years ago. A stunt. A guy drops a baseball from a helicopter and Boonie drops it. I wanted Pete under this one."
Having been here for all the Phils' recent tribulations, Schmidt saw especially ugly possibilities in the muff. The Phils' history almost demanded it fall to the ground, that the reprieved Frank White smack some sort of bases-loaded blast that caused high anticipation to end in sadness once again.
"We've had so many low points," Schmidt said. "And they've come in important games in front of national audiences. They've been so low, because they've been so freaky."
This freak was Rose-colored. It was Pete Rose's ball all along. The man hired as their savior two years ago, the man expected to win important games, happened by Boonesboro at just the right moment. He turned this potential disaster area into a thrilling bit of theater.
What one of the most mechanical and stiff-looking first basemen in all of baseball did would have been inspired from the most gifted fielder. In the tensest moment in Phillie history, with the Series that close to perhaps popping away, Rose flicked his mitt out and snatched the ball.
And considered it routine.
"The second out," he said, as casually as a man can talk with a champagne bottle about to fill his mouth, dozens of reporters pushing him against a table and several teammates slapping at his back. "That's all it was. The second out."
And exactly the appropriate way for the Phils to win their first World Series.
Little has gone conventionally for the Phils this season. When most of the baseball world expected them to win early, they lost. When everyone expected them to fold during the stretch run and National League playoff, they did not. They made comebacks routine. Cardiac alerts became routine for their fans, the ones who had suffered for so long.
This is a fan story as much as a team celebration, for such as Iry Golden have endured so much for so long.
As usual, his was an odd-looking appearance, though entirely right for the occasion. Business suit and Phillies tie, a smile that said 35 years of frustration surely would end tonight. And the hat, the floppy red thing with the white, script P that had been so lucky lately.
"I think they're over the hump," he said, hopefully. "The history of the Phillies is always getting somebody to third but not being able to execute and get him home. But I think this team is different. It's climbed the mountain, so to speak,"
The history of the Phillies has been to take their Goldens to the penultimate moment every generation or so, to an emotional third base, and lave them stranded. Boone's muff came less than five feet from Iry Golden's box. If he saw an eternity of Philie failures, when the ball bounded into the air, he will see it fall safely in Rose's glove until his final breath.
Nothing possibly could top that bit of drama. Of course, Willie Wilson would strike out to end the game, to assure a 4-1 victory in which the silent starter, Steve Carlton, pitched far better than the riotous reliever, Tug McGraw. But even the celebration was unforseen. Or at least the one inside the stadium.
It was rather subdued, actually dull, considering what had been anticipated.
Dogs and horses, billy clubs and mean-looking cops outlining the field make even Philly fanatics tame. That was not what made the scene special. Not only did the standing-room crowd yell their hearts out and demand the Phils come out for a curtain call but the players actually also came out.
"Listen guys," Manager Dallas Green yelled during the early champagne squirting. "They want us out there. They're yelling for us. Come on."
Given all the fuss and resistance to Green's tough tactics, from spring training on, it was assumed no Phil would follow him to a vault loaded with money. Surprisingly, many did. Rose and some role-playing pitchers and coaches. And to the expected ovation, Green jumped up and down and shook his right fist into the air.
He had been vindicated -- and he wanted all the world to know it.
Some of the once-casual Phils grudgingly acknowledged it. Schmidt, the Series' most valuable player, even let a Greenism escape his lips.
"We've been a grind-it-out team," Schmidt said at one point. He suddenly stopped and said: "That's something Dallas has said for so long I guess it's implanted by now." Schmidt showed just a bit more stubbornness, saying:
"What we did was always find a way to win.
"We never played world-championship baseball, until we had to. Or until we got the chance. Nobody will talk about us in grand terms. No Big Red Machine here, because we haven't done that sort of thing, blown anybody out like we're capable."
Schmidt was trying to stay outwardly calm. He had to be coaxed into a swig for the cameras. He admitted Green's way must have been right, because it worked. But he added:
"We've been a different team only in the last two or three weeks. A lot of what was written about us earlier in the season was justified. The first five weeks we didn't play like champions. But after winning the two we had to win in Montreal and the two we had to win in Houston nothing could stop us."
Of course, the final act belonged to McGraw. He fiddled on the mound while Philadelphians burned with intensity. He left the bases loaded in each of the last two innings, pounding his heart now and then just to make sure everybody realized what was at stake.
McGraw entered the interview area after the game with his left arm in a sling and lots of ice strapped to his elbow. Tug was tugging at our hearts even harder than usual.
"It was about a 10 on the nervous scale," he said of his on-the-field show. "But then I've through a lot of 10s lately."