Phillies relish first World Series title in 28 years

PHILADELPHIA – She is only 3, so she could not begin to know the half of it, why thousands of Phillies fans already were pouring into the intersection of Broad Street and Oregon Avenue, the place where this city congregates to celebrate its champions, a neighborhood that has been awfully lonely the past 25 years.

But as she leaned back in her father's arms, thrusting her little thumbs into the air and beaming into his bearded face, Avery Lidge's voice rose with a joy that melted into memory the chill of this late October night.

"We won, Daddy," she exclaimed to the championship-clinching closer, Brad Lidge. "My daddy won."

A World Series that ran too late, got too wet, then hiccupped in historic fashion is over.

The Philadelphia Phillies, for only the second time in their 126-year history, are World Series champions, defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 in what amounted to sudden-death fashion. They completed a task Wednesday night that had been interrupted almost 48 hours earlier by driving winds, howling rain and a besieged baseball commissioner.

Pat Burrell, one of only two players who have been with the Phillies organization for a decade or more (shortstop Jimmy Rollins is the other), much of that time spent enduring boos from fans legendary for their crankiness, had only one hit in the Series. But it couldn't have been more crucial. Burrell's seventh-inning double off Rays reliever J.P. Howell, followed one out later by Pedro Feliz's single off submariner Chad Bradford, led to the run that decided the first suspended game in World Series history.

"I think this means more to Pat maybe than anybody on the team," said Eric Bruntlett, who replaced Burrell as a pinch runner and scored the winning run for the second time in three games, the Phillies sweeping all three games in Citizens Bank Park to eliminate the Rays in five games. "To have a relationship that was rocky with the people of Philadelphia, then come back all the way around, I know this is very special to him.

"And of all the people on this team, he knows what these fans have been through, what it's been like for them. He feels part of this city."

Philadelphia has not had a champion since the NBA's 76ers defeated the Lakers in 1983, and the populace was poised Monday night to celebrate the Phillies' first Series title since 1980 until the elements intervened. Play was halted at 10:40 p.m. ET with the score tied 2-2 after 5½ innings, commissioner Bud Selig belatedly, in the view of many, deciding conditions were unplayable.

"That was the worst weather I've ever pitched in in my entire life," said Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels, who was named World Series MVP after beating the Rays in Game 1 and holding them to two runs in Monday's monsoon, "and I really did make the best of it."

The Phillies' work was done at 9:58 p.m. Wednesday night, when Lidge, the reliever whose flawed past did not dissuade general manager Pat Gillick from trading for him last winter, dropped to his knees in front of the mound after striking out Tampa Bay pinch hitter Eric Hinske. The Phillies became the first team to go 7-0 at home in the postseason.

"It was as intense a moment as I've ever been in," Lidge said, reflecting on the odd circumstances of a night that began with a reliever, Grant Balfour, on the mound for Tampa Bay, and a pinch hitter, Geoff Jenkins, sent to the plate as the first batter by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. "Very tough, a lot of nerves."

A crowd of 45,940, mindful that the Phillies were only nine outs away from a champagne soaking, flipped beyond frenzied when Jenkins doubled into the right-center field gap, was bunted to third by Rollins and scored when Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura, his back to the plate, could not hold Jayson Werth's popup over Tampa Bay's drawn-in infield.

The Rays came back to tie the score on a home run by Rocco Baldelli off reliever Ryan Madson in the top of the seventh, but the tie was short-lived.

"People have no idea," said Rays manager Joe Maddon, who eschewed the normal lefty-righty matchups with his bullpen and paid dearly for it. "Three and a half innings, just trying to piece it together. Jenkins is big, no question, and that two-out base hit [by Werth], that's a big moment for them.

"Then Rocco answers it, and we're just trying to get to that next moment that permits you to get the lead somehow."

Lidge, who lost the confidence of his previous employer, Houston, after giving up a crushing postseason home run to Albert Pujols of the Cardinals three years ago, redefined perfection this season. Lidge converted all 41 of his save opportunities in the regular season, then seven more in October, none sweeter, or accomplished under more nerve-stretching circumstances, than this one.

Lidge retired Rays wunderkind-turned-mortal Evan Longoria (1-for-20) on a pop fly, but Dioner Navarro lined a single to right, and pinch runner Fernando Perez stole second with another pinch hitter, Ben Zobrist, at the plate. Zobrist lined out to right and Maddon sent up Hinske, left off the roster during the AL playoffs but pressed into service when Cliff Floyd injured his shoulder.

Hinske had one previous at-bat in the World Series, and he had hit one into the shrubbery beyond the center-field fence for a home run. This time, he saw three sliders, swung over the last one, and Lidge fell to his knees and awaited the embrace of catcher Carlos Ruiz and the pile of Phillies humanity that followed.

"He never talked about what his reaction would be," said Lidge's wife, Lindsay, taking their daughter from her husband's arms, "but he always said he wanted to be there for that moment. I think his reaction was pretty priceless."

The Rays, meanwhile, fell short on what has been a wondrous journey, from worst to first in the American League and with the promise of competing for years to come.

"I'm disappointed, man," said Maddon, the manager who turned a losing culture upside down in Tampa Bay, "but look what happened this year. I'm going to give myself, over the next couple of days, a chance to reflect on this whole thing. I know one thing: It's one big ol' positive. There's not a negative thing to be derived from this season."

But the party belonged to Philadelphia, and the ring to Manuel, the homespun manager whose 87-year-old mother, June, died during the playoffs, depriving him of the chance to share another phone call with her, the kind she made almost daily from her home in Buena Vista, Va.

"I think she'd be hollering and laughing," said Manuel, one of June's 11 children and the one who forever will know love in Philly. "And I think she'd be telling us how good a team I had and all that stuff, really.

"And she would be saying that she's going to walk around in Buena Vista and talk to everybody tomorrow. That's what she would be saying."