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October 28, 2008

On the Beat

World Series Game Fi...

by John Perrotto

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PHILADELPHIA-Artificial turf has all but been eradicated from the game of baseball, and cookie-cutter stadiums are a thing of the past. Although that makes purists rejoice, ugly old Veterans Stadium would have looked pretty good on Monday night.

The Vet was legendary for rarely having a rainout. The rain could reach Biblical proportions, and all the grounds crew had to do was roll the automatic tarpaulin off the infield, run the water-sucking Zambonis across the outfield, and the home plate umpire could yell, "Play ball!" Play could even continue in heavy rain-as was the case when the Phillies won the decisive Game Four of the 1983 National League Championship Series over the Dodgers in a near-monsoon.

Veterans Stadium is gone however, so things were a lot more complicated for Commissioner Bud Selig and his umpiring crew as heavy rain began to fall in the fourth inning of Game Five of the World Series on Monday night and never let up. Finally, with puddles forming in the infield, fielders having trouble tracking pop-ups, and fly balls and footing becoming increasingly treacherous, the umpires called for a delay with the score tied 2-2 between the Rays and Phillies in the middle of the sixth inning. A half-hour later, Selig called for play to be suspended.

The first suspended game in the World Series' 105-year history will be resumed tonight-maybe-at the point where it was stopped. Rays manager Joe Maddon said Grant Balfour, who relieved starting pitcher Scott Kazmir in the fifth inning, would be on the mound when play resumes. The Phillies still had ace left-hander Cole Hamels in the game and did not reveal their pitching plans as manager Charlie Manuel, who was said by a team insider to be furious with the way Selig and the umpires handled the entire situation, was unavailable for comment. Most likely, one of the Phillies' set-up relievers, left-hander J.C. Romero or right-hander Ryan Madson, will take over.

The Phillies lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 and need only one more victory to win the second World Series title in a 126-year history that includes being the only franchise in professional sports to lose 10,000 games. There is no guarantee the teams will be able to play tonight as the weather forecasts are not promising. Selig broadly hinted that play might not be resumed until Wednesday night. If that is the case, Games Six and Seven, if necessary, originally scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday nights in St. Petersburg, would each be pushed back a day, though there is talk that today's lost off day could be added before a Game Six.

"The game will be resumed when I believe that weather conditions are appropriate," Selig said. "While we're at the time of the year where ideal conditions don't always exist, I'm going to be very sensitive and thorough in at least making sure that we don't have a situation like we had." Selig said he consulted three weather services and the consensus was that a full nine innings could be played. "Given the weather forecast we had, and we had monitored it over and over again, we made the decision to play," Selig said. "Obviously, I made it with some significant trepidation, but had the forecast held we would have been OK."

A rule change enacted by Major League Baseball last year came into play Monday night that now allows a tied regulation game, stopped after at least five innings, to be suspended. Previously, a game called with the score tied in the fifth inning or later was declared a tie game and replayed in its entirety. Though the rain started falling in the fourth inning and quickly became heavy, the game was not stopped until the middle of the sixth after the Rays tied the game in the top of the inning against Hamels, who is 4-0 in five post-season starts. B.J. Upton singled with two outs, stole second, and scored on Carlos Pena's single to left.

While Selig and the umpires claimed the decision to suspend the game at that point was happenstance, there seemed to be a method to that madness. Selig admitted he would have delayed the game indefinitely rather than call a World Series game before it lasted the regulation nine innings. There has never been a World Series game that has not been played to a complete nine innings, though three have ended in ties. "That might have been a day or two or three or whatever," Selig said of a potential rain delay. "We might have celebrated Thanksgiving here if need be."

While the Phillies will have to wait at least a day to wrap up the title, and perhaps longer now that the Rays have been given a reprieve from losing in the first World Series appearance of their 11-year history, they handled the suspension well. "It's disappointing in the fact that you go home tonight with no resolution to anything but there's nothing you can do about the weather," Hamels said. "I felt like we were playing well and had a good chance to win. All we can do now is come back tomorrow, play three good innings, and try to wrap it up then. Our bullpen has been great all year. If they do the job, I like our chances of winning."

It is rather ironic that Game Five will come down to a battle of bullpens; the Rays (15.23) were first and the Phillies (15.01) were second in the major leagues in WXRL during the regular season. "It's going to be different than the normal game," Phillies closer Brad Lidge said. "I know it's easy to say whichever bullpen pitches better is going to win, but it's not that cut and dried. Every game has a certain flow to it and that's gone now. It's almost like a re-start. It's hard to say what's going to happen."

Shane Victorino's two-run single for the Phillies in the first inning off of Kazmir opened the scoring, but those were the only runs the left-hander allowed despite walking six in four-plus innings. The Rays got a run in the fourth when Pena got his first hit of the series with a one-out double and Evan Longoria followed with his first hit of the series, an RBI single. The Rays tied it in the sixth when Upton stole his way into scoring position, though the footing was haphazard with puddles forming on infield dirt that would have been better characterized as "infield mud" by that point. The steal turned out to be huge when he scored on Pena's hit and averted what surely would have been, if Selig is to be believed, the longest rain delay in baseball history. "B.J. is on his own when it comes to stealing bases, and I was very proud of him right there, especially because of the way Hamels was working him, holding him on, doing a great job of making B.J. keep getting back to the bag," Maddon said. "The slide looked like some kind of finish of a horse race with the hooves kicking up the dirt and the mud at the same time."

Upton barely made it around third base without falling on his way home with the tying run. After Longoria flied out to center field, with Victorino fighting the rain to get a bead on the ball, the umpires pulled both teams off of the field. "The head groundskeeper here, Mike Boekholder, and his crew did a great job," umpire crew chief Tim Welke said. "They groomed the field every half-inning and were keeping up. Then the velocity of the rain made it such when we were playing in the top of the sixth that it became harder and harder. What we look for as umpires is the integrity of the mound and the batter's box, and that was never compromised. Guys weren't falling off the mound pitching and the hitters weren't slipping out of the box. So we felt comfortable going on until the velocity of the rain just made it so that Mike and crew couldn't keep up with keeping the field playable. So at that point, we had to stop."

The Rays had checked out of their downtown hotel before the game and had to scramble to find accommodations in Wilmington, Delaware, following the suspension. However, Maddon and the Rays, facing elimination, weren't upset with the stoppage. In fact, Maddon looked like a man who had received a stay of execution from the governor, knowing Hamels was out of the game. "It happens," Maddon said of rainouts and suspensions. "You know what? We're not going to complain about it. We talked about it before the game. That's how it played out. That's exactly how it played out."

The Phillies had every reason to be upset because they wound up burning their best pitcher. Hamels has a 1.80 ERA in 35 post-season innings. The only way he would be able to pitch again is if rain continues to pelt Philadelphia long enough that the series would wind up being extended until Saturday.

Even so, Phillies general manager Pat Gillick took the high road about how everything played out. "Well, naturally we're not happy that Hamels is out of the game, but one of the strengths of our ballclub is the bullpen," Gillick said. "Going into this evening, we thought we would get this ballgame in, but there was a change in the weather and unfortunately those things happen. So, we'll just have to go on from here, and go get them whenever we can play."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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