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October 30, 2008

On the Beat

The Longest Game

by John Perrotto

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PHILADELPHIA-The Phillies had 46 hours to ponder their fate from the time the Rays tied Game Five in the sixth inning on Monday night until play resumed on Wednesday night following the first suspension in World Series history and a half-hour Barack Obama infomercial. Forty-six hours to surf the internet, watch television, listen to the radio, and read the newspapers. They had 46 hours to hear and read over and over again how the Rays' battling back to tie Game Five before heavy rain forced commissioner Bud Selig to suspend the game had swung the momentum of the series away from the Phillies, even though they still held a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven.

"It was the longest 46 hours of my life," Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth said. "If anyone else in this clubhouse tells you anything differently, then they aren't completely leveling with you. We were all ready to win the series on Monday night and then the plug got pulled. It's tough to sit on that for almost two days before you get a chance to play again."

Once play resumed, all those dire predictions about the Phillies losing their edge and how Citizens Bank Park might be half-empty after a two-day wait were proven false. The Phillies came out firing as pinch-hitter Geoff Jenkins smoked a two-out double off of Rays reliever Grant Balfour to lead off the bottom of the sixth. That began an action-packed final three innings that saw the Phillies prevail 4-3 to win their first World Series title since 1980 and only the second in the franchise's 126-year history. A World Series that never lacked for interest, with four of the five games being decided by two runs, had ended in exciting fashion rather than the big fizzle many had expected.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel wasn't the least bit surprised by the great ending. "Those are two good teams that were playing in this series, and I don't think the layoff hurt either team," Manuel said. "We came out with the same intensity we had the whole series and they came out with the same intensity. I think their thoughts were just like ours; they were determined to win the game. The game played out well, and we did get some good pitching at the end and came out on top."

The Phillies went ahead 3-2 when Jenkins scored on a bloop single by Werth into center field that second baseman Akinori Iwamura could not hold on to after a long run. The Rays tied it with one out in the top of the seventh when Rocco Baldelli blasted a solo home run to left field off of Ryan Madson, who had taken over in place of starter and series MVP Cole Hamels, who had given up two runs in his six innings. The Phillies came right back in the bottom of the seventh as Pat Burrell hit a leadoff double high off the wall near the 409-foot sign in center field off of left-hander J.P. Howell (who subsequently wound up taking the loss). Eric Bruntlett pinch ran for Burrell, and moved to third when Shane Victorino grounded out to second against Chad Bradford. Pedro Feliz, who had taken away at-bats all year from Greg Dobbs at the hot corner (despite a .241 EqA that was 37 points lower than Dobbs'), followed by grounding a single into center field that scored Bruntlett with the winning run.

J.C. Romero pitched a scoreless eighth after getting the final out in the seventh and got credit for his second win of the series. Brad Lidge then worked around a one-out broken-bat single by Dioner Navarro to pitch a scoreless ninth for the save; pinch-runner Fernando Perez stole second, but was stranded there as pinch-hitter Ben Zobrist lined out to right and pinch-hitter Eric Hinske struck out swinging.

This finished a perfect season for Lidge, who had converted all 41 of his save opportunities in the regular season while leading the major leagues with 7.59 WXRL, and then went 7-for-7 in save chances in the postseason. "I'd gotten a couple of sliders up earlier in the inning, and Navarro hit one for a single and Zobrist hit one hard for an out," Lidge said. "Once I got to two strikes on Hinske, I knew it was time to keep the slider low, really try to bury it. I saw him swing over it and I just kind of froze for a second. Then, the gravity of the situation hit me and I nearly blacked out until I felt all my teammates jumping on top of me."

It appeared that 95 percent of the fans who were at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night had returned on Wednesday, and they were loud from the beginning, going into a complete frenzy when Hinske swung and missed to end the game and 25 years of frustration for Philadelphia sports fans. This marks the city's first major championship since the 76ers beat the Lakers in the 1982-83 NBA Finals. "The thing I'll always remember is how the fans were going crazy once we got to two outs in the ninth," Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard said. "They get loud here, as loud any place in the league, but I never heard them like that. It was like they were letting all those years of frustration out. They all showed up again two nights later and they were phenomenal."

The win capped a remarkable finish for the Phillies. They won 14 of their last 17 regular-season games to overtake the Mets and win the NL East for a second straight year, then beat the Brewers in four games in the NLDS and the Dodgers in five games in the NLCS, before taking out the upstart Rays in five in the World Series despite being pegged as the underdogs-all adding up to 25 victories in the last 31 games.

"My philosophy of baseball has always been excellence over success, because if you strive for excellence, then success will take care of itself," Manuel said. "The key is taking it day by day and trying to win that day's games. The whole postseason, we just looked at it like we needed to win three out of five, four out of seven, and four out of seven. If you do it that way, all of a sudden you look up and you're 25-6 or whatever. You get on a roll, start winning games, and everything is good for you. You can get on a roll like that if you work on mastering the game. That's where you work on correcting mistakes and weaknesses, prepare every day, and want to be the best player you can possibly be. If you do all that, good things will happen to you."

A lot of good things happened to the Rays this season as they became one of the game's best stories in years, going from doormat of the American League to the World Series. The Rays went from having the worst record in the majors at 66-96 in 2007 to winning the AL East with a 97-65 record this year and advancing to the World Series. After beating the White Sox in the ALDS and Red Sox in the ALCS however, the Rays were never able to get any traction in the World Series. The eternally optimistic Maddon was still able to walk out of Citizens Bank Park with a smile on his face. "This has been a remarkable year for us on so many different levels," Maddon said. "Very few people in this country or throughout the baseball world would have even guessed that we would get here. I'm very proud of our guys as a group, because they really did a truly remarkable job. We made a powerful statement and I view this as just the beginning. I think we validated and created the Ray way of playing baseball."

Things certainly couldn't have gone any better in October than they did for Hamels, except for having to make the early exit in Game Five because of the rain. The 24-year-old was 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA in two starts in the World Series, allowing four runs and 10 hits over 13 innings with two walks and eight strikeouts. For the postseason, he was 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA in five starts, giving up five runs and 18 hits in 29 innings while walking eight and striking out 27. Hamels was also the MVP of the NLCS, so he became the fifth player to win two post-season MVP awards in the same year, joining Willie Stargell of the 1979 Pirates, Darrell Porter of the 1982 Cardinals, Orel Hershiser of the 1988 Dodgers, and Livan Hernandez of the 1997 Marlins.

Hamels has been part of the Phillies' organization since they selected him in the first round in 2002 following his senior season of high school baseball in the San Diego area, and he has a grasp of how important a World Series title is to the franchise and its fans. "I really don't know if the magnitude of what we've done will ever truly register until we come back here when we're all old and retired, and the fans still give us a standing ovation, just like they do to all the guys that played on the 1980 World Series team," Hamels said. "We've had the chance to witness that. Knowing that, and seeing the city and the excitement that has been there from the first game of the season this year throughout the multiple sellouts in the regular season, and then of course the playoff excitement was just really huge. I really think the fans could taste it as much as we could. And that taste, now that we've won it, is very sweet."

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

Related Content:  Philadelphia Phillies,  The Who

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