PHILADELPHIA – Pulling on their last World Series breath, watching their brilliant season circle the dugout drain with expectorated sunflower shells and Skoal drool, and falling obediently to postseason force Cole Hamels, the Tampa Bay Rays had a single hope:
Skies had to open. Gods had to roar. Pitching staffs had to be blown into confusion. Third base had to become lake-front property.
The Philadelphia Phillies had to be knocked off what had been a downhill run since the series moved north. And not just the Phillies. The whole series.
Something, you know, apocalyptic.
And that wasn't even it.
It rolled in on winds cold and sure. It rose up over Citizens Bank Park, over the neon Liberty Bell, over giddy, expectant fans covered in red hoodies and trash bags.
Dressed in swirling curtains of rain, cloaked in a howling northwest breeze, it stopped the World Series at 80 minutes before midnight, the middle of the sixth inning, Game 5.
Instead of a party 28 years coming, we have the open-ended rain delay, with more rain forecast Tuesday and Wednesday. They're even talking snow Wednesday.
It probably won't bother the Phillies. It probably won't hurt them.
But, the havoc was absolutely necessary for the Rays. They stood in their clubhouse late Monday night and they weren't yet losers. They weren't winners. But, hey, it's all about survival now, pushing the season along hour by hour, inning by inning, fluke by fluke.
So instead of baseball, they got Bud Selig holding up a rule book he had no intention of honoring. Had the Phillies led 2-1 (as they had with two out in the top of the sixth) when the umpires summoned the groundskeeper, they'd have finished the game anyway on some other night. The rule book would have awarded the game to the team that led.
Instead of Hamels for another 30 or 40 pitches – he'd thrown 75 when everybody was shooed from the field and the stands, they get the Phillies' bullpen. That's no treat, but it's not Hamels, either. Indeed, the Rays benefited in the sixth, when the weather left Hamels with nothing but his fastball. Pena hit a fastball into left field, and it scored B.J. Upton from second base.
“I had no chance to throw the curve, it was really off,” Hamels said. “I threw the changeup in warm-ups and had no command of it. The last thing I wanted was to hang one and have somebody hit it into the seats.”
The Rays' own starter – Scott Kazmir – had knocked off an inning earlier anyway, after 103 pitches. They were already into their bullpen.
Funny, but Rays manager Joe Maddon had talked before the game about this two-game deficit, about playing on the edge of the offseason. He'd watched his ballclub bat .187 for four games, seen his No. 3 and 4 hitters take four-game oh-fers. He'd had his pitching implode the night before.
“Right now we're just off our game a bit for these first couple of games of this series,” he'd said. “But I'm here to tell you, man, if we just get that field rolling, all of a sudden you're going to see guys all over the bases, and you're going to see ball going over the wall. It's there. It's within us. I've talked to Carlos [Pena] about it briefly, too. We need that one moment to switch the momentum. You've got to push that rock in the other direction. It's within us to do that. It's about the momentum. It's in their favor right now. Somehow we've got to have that one moment that shifts it in our direction, and we can't relent at that point. And I believe that.”
Six hours later, reminded in his clubhouse of those words, Maddon grinned. The moment had come, sure enough, just as he'd hoped.
“It wasn't the big home run,” he said. “It wasn't the big pitch or the big hit. It was the weather.”
He laughed at the goofiness of it.
Where it goes from here, well, havoc has no timetable. Maybe Grant Balfour will pitch the bottom of the sixth for the Rays since he ended the fifth. The Phillies pitcher in the seventh is to be determined. Some night soon, they'll open the gates and line the field and let all the people in and play a few innings, maybe to decide a World Series champion. Meantime, the Rays had to move to Delaware for rooms; they'd checked out of their Philadelphia hotel Monday afternoon.
“No, it's not conventional,” Rays reliever Trever Miller said. “But this team is not conventional. Those amazing Rays. We weren't supposed to beat the Yankees. We weren't supposed to beat the Red Sox.”
And they're still no closer to beating the Phillies.
But, Miller said, “We're comfortable with unconventional.”
Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey wandered past. Dabs of shaving cream clung to his face. He raised his eyebrows.
“Still alive,” he said.
It's the bare minimum, of course. It's all they had, of course.
“Just another twist to a beautiful story,” said Pena, who doubled and scored in the fourth inning before delivering the single for the Rays' run in the sixth. “The story keeps getting better. We want to extend this to the end. We're having too much fun.
“It feels great to know there's still life. We still have a heartbeat.”
It's not much. But it's what they have. A lot of hope. And a little havoc.