Most unusual, but Philly still ecstatic
PHILADELPHIA – One out before they won the oddest championship game in baseball history, the Philadelphia Phillies huddled on their mound. Pitching coach Rich Dubee wanted to make sure that his closer, Brad Lidge, knew what to throw Eric Hinske, the Tampa Bay Rays’ final hope.
Only no one could hear a word. The noise from Citizens Bank Park was too loud. This was the culmination of an evening unlike any other, one in which a 30-minute paid commercial from a presidential candidate preceded a Game 5 of the World Series that had been suspended, and that game restarted in the bottom of the sixth inning after a 46-hour rain delay, and the home team led off, and it did so with a pinch hitter against a relief pitcher, and guys wearing Elmer Fudd caps roamed the Rays outfield while their pitcher braved 43-degree cold in short sleeves, and everyone stood for the seventh-inning stretch in the evening’s second inning.
Perhaps most peculiar of all was the dawning reality: The Phillies were about to win the World Series.
So it was deafening, a beautiful cacophony that only Lidge and Dubee, leaning in toward each other, could drown.
“Have you faced this guy before?” Dubee said.
“Yeah, one time,” Lidge said. “He waffled a fastball off me.”
He was aiming for levity. Nobody laughed.
“Well, throw him a slider,” Dubee said.
Lidge did. Three straight. And when Hinske swung over the top of the final one, a third consecutive World Series had ended with a strikeout, though neither St. Louis nor Boston had built up quite the reservoir of anguish as Philadelphia. The stadium, and the city, exploded in euphoria at the Phillies’ first championship in 28 years, the 4-3 victory a delicious treat aged two days and to be savored for years.
Standard later were the sights, sounds and felonies of the apocalyptic mess that follows championships in Philadelphia: cars flipped on Broad Street, Port-O-Potties felled in parking lots, drivers clipping police cruisers, fans treating news vans as surfboards, glass beer bottles shattered like the entire street was a recycling bin and, yes, even a bare-chested gentleman wielding a crowbar and threatening innocents trying to have a good time.
And yet, the riotous behavior couldn’t overcome the goodwill engendered by what prompted it: The greatest losers in sports history, the franchise that mourned its 10,000th defeat last season, won their second championship in 126 seasons. They did so without a postseason defeat at home and by capturing 24 of the last 30 games they played, including Wednesday’s wacky finish that went through two days of anguish and buildup.
A handful of Phillies gathered at the stadium on Tuesday, hopeful that the game suspended with the score 2-2 a night earlier would resume. Second baseman Chase Utley lounged around the clubhouse. Lidge played catch; even one day without doing so leaves him with a stiff right arm. They left under the same circumstances as Monday: delayed by rain.
Finally, the skies relented Wednesday. Both teams arrived on time for their standard drills, went through batting-practice routines and prepared as though Game 5 wouldn’t be the oddest they’d ever played. No World Series game had been suspended, let alone one that could determine a champion. Which meant no matter how hard they tried to hew to their customs, something was bound to feel different.
Toward the end of the meeting among the Phillies’ top brass earlier in the day, Charlie Kerfeld, one of the team’s scouts, turned back to his cohorts before leaving the room.
“Hey guys, listen,” he said. “I’m gonna be a little late tonight. I’ll see you in the sixth inning.”
Leading up to it, both team’s managers delighted in the strategic permutations that the postponement presented. Decisions normally made on the fly got mapped out. Tampa Bay’s Joe Maddon stuck with Grant Balfour, his 97 mph-throwing right-hander, and Philadelphia’s Charlie Manuel countered by pinch hitting for his starting pitcher, Cole Hamels, with veteran left-hander Geoff Jenkins.
Jenkins, Matt Stairs and Greg Dobbs, the Phillies’ three lefties remaining on the bench, had wondered who Manuel would call. Ten minutes prior to the game, he told Jenkins, figuring that a potential five hours of lead time would only infiltrate Jenkins’ head.
“He’s not a guy that just says things to say things,” Lidge said. “But when he does, you listen. Because it’s always important. It’s always the right thing to say.”
Manuel’s marble-mouthed drawl belied his ability to motivate and shape the Phillies. He went up to nearly everybody in his clubhouse before Game 5 and offered each player one edict: remember to play like it’s the sixth inning.
After a pregame rendition of “God Bless America” instead of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies’ sparkplug shortstop, pulled Jenkins aside. Hit a double, Rollins asked, so he could bunt Jenkins to third base.
Jenkins obliged, Rollins followed with his sacrifice and Jayson Werth, nursing a cold that kept his voice to a gravelly murmur, blooped a single off retreating second baseman Akinori Iwamura’s glove and staked the Phillies a 3-2 lead.
“It was like the game never stopped,” Rollins said. “And that was the good point. We never stopped up here.”
Not then, and not after Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli answered in the top of the seventh with a solo home run. The Phillies coveted this game. They couldn’t afford to return to Tropicana Field for Games 6 and 7.
“We’re a team of necessity,” Werth said. “We do what we need to win.”
Which, for Pedro Feliz, meant a visit to Freddy Restaurant in Camden, N.J., to eat lunch Wednesday. Feliz goes there every day and orders chicken, rice and beans, just like they make it in the Dominican Republic. For Eric Bruntlett, it meant another day not shaving. His beard, full and resplendent, is now three months old, and he figures the Viking look is doing something for the Phillies.
Bruntlett, after all, had scored the winning run in a mad dash home in Game 3 in the bottom of the ninth, and here he was again, on third base in the seventh inning after pinch running for Pat Burrell, who had led off with a double. Feliz, a notorious high-ball hitter, took a 78-mph junkball from the softest-tossing non-knuckleballer in the major leagues, Chad Bradford, and poked it back up the middle to score Bruntlett and again stake the Phillies to a lead, this time 4-3.
Among all of the evening’s oddities, the one slice of normalcy came from how the game unfolded. It was like the late innings of so many games, filled with big hits and aching for stalwart relief pitching. Philadelphia had that warming up, literally, as a butane tank in its bullpen kept J.C. Romero toasty prior to his scoreless eighth inning and Lidge comfortable as he prepared to come out in the ninth.
When the bullpen door swung open, Lidge tried to ignore the crowd noise, though it was no use. He had been flawless all year, 47 for 47 in save opportunities, and this was his chance to coronate a new champion, crown his own perfect season and help bury, once and for all, the notion that a monster home run yielded to Albert Pujols in the 2005 postseason would define his legacy.
“Each moment has led me to this right now, to be able to do this, to take a deep breath and just throw my best pitch in that situation,” Lidge said. “If I didn’t have what I had, I don’t know if this happens.”
After it happened, Philadelphia celebrated. As the party raged on the field, two policemen led a handcuffed man down the tunnel outside the Rays clubhouse. He had tried to run onto the field. His best excuse: “They did it in ’80.” That likely will not hold up in court, though judges sympathetic to Philadelphia’s plight may be lenient.
“People here don’t forget,” Utley said. “They die by their sports.”
So the sight of the championship trophy being passed from Rollins to Brett Myers to Jenkins to Utley to Greg Dobbs to Joe Blanton to Scott Eyre to Ryan Howard caused cheer after cheer. Outfielder Shane Victorino’s father, Michael, pranced around the field handing out leis straight from their native Hawaii, taking explicit pleasure in crowning retiring Phillies general manager Pat Gillick. Teammates dug up the pitching mound for Jamie Moyer, and Howard took a lap around the stadium with a Phillies flag, and So Taguchi’s wife, Emiko, a Japanese TV host fluent in English, spoke for everyone when she said: “Let’s get drunk tonight!”
Nowhere was the disappointment that swirled last year when Philadelphia’s season ended with Colorado’s three-game sweep in the National League Division Series. Like 2007, the Phillies needed a spirited run this year to fend off the New York Mets for the NL East crown. No way, they promised, would they break so easily in October, not after cheating themselves.
“You have to talk things to life,” Rollins said.
So they did, Rollins the leading mouthpiece. He still was chirping an hour after hoisting the trophy, finally getting to his 43 awaiting text messages and reading one out loud, from Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb: “Congrats, my dude. The streets is hot. Enjoy it for ya boy. We up next.”
Around the Phillies clubhouse, the celebration was winding down. Burrell, the team’s longest-tenured player, had left early, and Hamels, the series MVP who had thrown the first six innings of Game 5 for Philadelphia, was combing his hair. People kept coming up to him and thanking him, fans and media members and teammates, and, still just 24 years old, he couldn’t figure out quite what to say.
“No, no problem,” he mustered. “Seriously. Just playing a game. A game I love.”
The gravity of it hadn’t sunk in yet, and it won’t for another day, probably not until Friday. Philadelphia will hold its parade for the Phillies that day, and considering the one in 1980 drew 2 million people, for Mike Schmidt and Pete Rose and Steve Carlton and Larry Bowa and Tug McGraw, this one, bringing hope to a city in such beleaguered times, is bound to exceed that.
“I knew that we were gonna win for some reason,” Hamels said. “You have that feeling we’re going to get it done here. The fans knew. We knew.”
Everyone knew during that meeting on the mound. Flash bulbs popped around the stadium. It was the moment right before the moment, so many Phillies icons in one spot: Howard, Utley, Rollins and Feliz, the three MVP candidates and the guy with the game-winning RBI surrounding the perfect closer.
Lidge actually had faced Hinske twice, though his recall of a game on June 11, 2005, was quite remarkable: He had given up a solid single to Hinske and blown a save. So he was surprised by the reaction on the infielders’ faces: complete disregard.
Ah. The noise.
“I was wondering what he said,” Howard said.
“I didn’t hear it, either,” Utley said.
“He did not say that,” Rollins said.
“He said what?” Feliz said.
None of them knew about the waffling, and none of them cared. The slider was coming. Hinske was swinging. The Phillies were winning. And nothing felt odd about that.