A 46-Hour Philly Phascination

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A 46-Hour Philly Phascination

Phorgive the writers this week iph you’re on “ph” overload. It’s all part of this cataclysmic event that spanned 46 hours and more. In the end it was a gem, a unique Philly phascination.

Say what you will, there’s no escaping the phact that this game changed baseball phorever.

Since its inception, baseball has been a timeless sport. The only certainty in baseball is that there is a beginning and an end. This week, in Philadelphia, in the fifth game of the 2008 World Series, the beginning, the middle, and the end were in question and somewhat in doubt from time to time.

It was a true World Series. It was a baseball series about the human condition and the weather conditions. The human element was in conflict with the baseball rule book. The weather was in conflict with the baseball being played on the field. Philadelphia and Tampa were in a conflict for all-time on a field of dreams. One can only hope they knew it at the time.

Take yourself back to a year ago, when the baseball world was taken storm by the Colorado Rockies. They won 21 out of 22 games at one point, to go from being out of it to the 2007 World Series. The Rockies came together as a team and got white hot, making history along the way.

In the path of the Rockies were the Arizona Diamondbacks, on their last series of the regular season to qualify for a one-game playoff. San Diego came to Denver and had the Rockies right where they wanted them, praying to the Padres for a miracle. They got one in the bottom of the ninth in one of the greatest games of all-time to make it to the NLDS. 

Colorado faced off against a slightly younger and less experienced team than we saw this year in the Philadelphia Phillies. The Rockies not only found a way to win their NLDS with Philadelphia, they swept them in three straight games, the first two in Philadelphia.

The Rockies eventually beat Arizona in the NLCS and were swept by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. The Rockies had an extended break between games that some thought impacted their chemistry after being so hot.

Ironically enough, at this time, the Rockies are rumored to be in preliminary trade talks for Matt Holliday, the team leader with the bat on the field.

And herein lies the difference between an also-ran and a world champion. The Rockies were so close last year, but failed to follow up from the lessons of being second best. The Phillies are celebrating tonight in part because they decided to believe in a reliever to be their new closer. 

In Philadelphia, they looked at the lessons to be learned from that series with the Rockies and they took it to heart. The greatest addition to their arsenal became Brad Lidge, who had a good career in Houston with the Astros. Brad was with the Astros when they lost the 2005 series to the Chicago White Sox and that was the beginning of a challenging time for Lidge.

The season following that series, the normally reliable stuff just wasn’t there, and it cost Brad in his reputation as a top reliever. So, this series for Philadelphia and for Lidge was about redemption. For Philly, the professional baseball franchise with the most losses of all-time, winning only their second championship is sweeter than honey. 

The last World Series the Phillies were in, they were supposed to win, until Joe Carter and the Toronto Blue Jays had other ideas. That was their blundering moment they could not shake, that is, until that fateful week when all was wrong and yet so right. It must have been a Hallows Eve series for the ages.

The deciding game of this series started out under a shroud of uncertainty and controversy as to whether or not these teams could get the game in. There was an approaching weather system that promised a great deal of moisture for what could be the final game of the 2008 World Series.

It was later iterated by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig that there was a moment of “democracy” where it was decided by league officials and team officials to attempt to play the game. The game was in a slow drizzle from the start through the better part of five innings.

While there may have been some impact on the game, it was minimal during those early innings. There was, however, a building surge of pressure that mounted, primarily on Tampa Bays’ side, that eventually sent this game and the baseball world into a tizzy of unabashed fodder for the millennium. The game officially started on Monday night and did not end until Wednesday night, leaving the legacy for a 46-hour Philly phasicination.

As the game was starting, the rain was beginning to fall as well, when Cole Hamels took down the Rays in first, three up and three down. Scott Kazmir came out to pitch, and from ball one to Jimmy Rollins, it was hard to feel as if Tampa would win. Rollins flied out to left, but Jayson Werth walked on a 3-2 count.

Kazmir then accidentally plunked Chase Utley, struck out Ryan Howard, and then walked Pat Burrell to load the bases for Shane Victorino—the Dodger killer. Shane showed he could also soak in some rays, while killing them early as well, with his two-out single that scored two.

The Phillies, and not the Rays, started hot and got up early. The Rays would have to chip away in order to find their way back into this low-scoring affair.

It’s been said that peace and patience are the keys to life. The Rays started proving their A.L. best on those principles in the top of the fourth.

If the Rays were going to lose, they were going down swinging against the best Philly had to offer, with a highly-calculated approach at the plate. Cole Hamels was undefeated in the postseason.

The Rays got their first hit in the third and started to heat up in the fourth, when first baseman Carlos Pena doubled to right as the drizzle started to pick up. Rookie sensation Evan Longoria followed with a meaningful shot of his own with a single to center field that scored Pena to narrow the margin to 2-1.

Scott Kazmir, to his credit, has bloomed over the years into the type of pitcher that Tampa Bay had hoped could be. With an ERA under 3.5, Kazmir's command has kept the Rays competitive. In this key World Series game, he did just that, finding his way out of jam after jam, only to surrender minimal damage and keep his team in a tight ballgame.

There was possibly no bigger stop than in the bottom of the fourth when Kazmir had the bases full in what was starting to become a driving rain. Chase Utley worked Kazmir into a 3-1 count when Kazmir hit an inside fastball to reach a full count. Utley then grounded out to second baseman Iwamura for out No. 3, and magically, the Rays thwarted another Phillies rally.

The fifth inning served as a space holder for what was about to come, as the rain intensified. Chase Utley turned a spectacular double play in tagging Rocco Baldelli on the foot as he was running to second then flipped the ball to first.

After Kazmir surrendered two consecutive walks to start the bottom half of the inning, he was replace on the mound by Grant Balfour, who did the job in getting three straight outs without a run. 

Questions about the weather and game continuation began to circulate throughout the stadium. While most people were looking for a break in the weather, the brass at MLB was looking for a break in the game that could help the cause. Through what was now a driving rain, the Tampa Bay Rays were allowed to go to bat, and the stuff of imagery, imagination, legends, and Philly phascination had all but just begun.

In the top of the sixth inning, the Rays seemed close to elimination, with two quick outs and a driving rain that appeared to have no let up in it. B.J. Upton, who uses a stage name, with the B.J. standing for Bossman Junior, came up to bat in what will be a moment forever captured to be larger than the series itself. 

Upton managed an infield single that would be a catalyst in changing the history and rules of baseball forever. On a line grounder up the middle, Jimmy Rollins reached out to put his glove on the ball but could not manage it and the ball squirted out to center field. Suddenly, there was hope in Tampa.

Bossman Junior then played Cole Hamels for a fool when he took off for second after many throws to first. Upton got a great jump and wound up on second base, kicking up mud and water on the slide into second. Carlos Pena then nailed a 2-2 pitch to the opposite field to left, delivering a skidding Upton to home plate with the tying run in the nick of time. Pena then stole second, but Longoria could not cash in on the house money with his deep hit to center field. 

That was the moment in which baseball changed forever. Bob Dupuy of Major League Baseball then conferred with the Commissioner and Crew Chief Phil Rungee in the middle of the sixth to pull the tarp over the field. As Joe Buck mentioned on the FOX broadcast, the Rays had to score the run to tie or technically the World Series would probably be over. 

As embarrassing a situation as it was for MLB, they chose to pull the tarp on the field and eventually suspend the game until it could be resumed which turned out to be 46 hours later.

The game picked up in the bottom of the sixth inning two nights later, and the Phillies showed they wanted to win the championship in Philadelphia.  Jeff Jenkins pinch hit for Cole Hamels and hit a double to right center. After a sacrifice bunt and a single, the Phillies had their go ahead run and the Rays found themselves in a place they wanted no part of.

In the top of the seventh, Rocco Baldelli hit a home run, tying the score again. This fight was trading punch for punch in the late innings, with no end in sight, until Pat Burrell doubled to center field and Bruntlett came on to pinch run. After an infielder’s choice, Pedro Feliz singled to center field and Bruntlett scored to put the margin at 4-3.

Still, it seemed that when the Rays needed something, they were their own undoing by not getting the big play when they needed it most and not finding the crucial stops.  Shortly after the Phillies scored, they made quick work of Tampa Bay in the eighth and ninth innings to win their second world championship in a most unlikely phascinating way.

The fallout from this game will be in the news for years to come, regarding rules changes and the future of how games are managed. This may have been the soggiest series since the 1979 Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates “We Are Family” series that saw numerous rain delays, but nothing to this magnitude.

For the Phillies, they are this year’s World Champions, and they went out and got it a year after being swept out of the playoffs. For the Tampa Bay Rays, they overcame being the worst team in baseball a year ago to playing in a fairly tight World Series and have as bright of a future as their new name.

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On a personal note that is just as odd as this series was fascinating (sort of like degrees of separation), here are my personal yet very loose connections to the two teams in the 2008 World Series. 

In a former life in my college years, I worked with Brad Lidge's dad (Ralph) at a local real estate company in Denver. A few years ago, I worked for a friend’s construction business and we actually worked on Brad Lidge's new home.       

One of the last roster moves out of Spring Training for the Tampa Rays organization this season was the release of a family friend, OF Jackson Brennan, who played college ball at Gonzaga.

Jackson might just have one of the rarest cards in all of baseball, who knows maybe one day he’ll be more popular than Honus Wagner. For now, I’ll treasure the friendship, and if you find a signed Brennan card, then you’re one of the lucky ones.

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