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Baseball is just fine. Rain, cold weather, long games, late games, poor TV ratings, worse umpiring… none of it matters. Nothing that makes this many people this happy is ever going to go away.

Watching your favorite team win a championship isn’t the highlight of anyone’s life. We love, we marry, we parent, we achieve, we have all of these experiences with family and friends. These are the things that make up a life.

Your team, though… you share that with everyone. You don’t go through that alone, with your spouse or your kids, with your friends or your business partners. You live that passion in public, in a stadium, with thousands, tens of thousands of others, and your heart goes out on your sleeve and stays there, no matter how badly it gets bruised. Everyone around you, walking around for years-28 of them, say-all of you with a shared history of joy and pain, of almost and not-quite-almost, memories of the great third baseman or the scrappy center fielder, but also of a left-handed reliever gone awry, and the other guys jumping up and down, spiking your ill-placed heart, pain you’d try to forget if only those damned highlights people would let you.

And in a moment, you’re healed. In the time it takes for a reliever-a perfect reliever-to drop to his knees and raise his arms to the sky, it all goes away. There’s no disappointment, there’s no pain, there’s no frustration, there’s just you and 46,000 like you, screaming into the night sky with that reliever, a building full of happy, surrounded by a city of joy, all looking at one thing: baseball.

That moment is why baseball is just fine. Baseball makes people happy, so happy that they hug strangers, cry in public, scream at the top of their lungs, or just sit, slumped, shaking, relieved, disbelieving.

Just after the game, maybe three minutes, I was walking through the stadium down to the field, probably half as fast as I needed to be moving. I couldn’t rush through all that happy, couldn’t walk through the crowd and not read every face, soak in the expressions as the ruddy-cheeked, apple-nosed Philadelphians shouted gleefully to no one in particular, demanding high-fives, high-tens, a high-twenty if you stalled in front of the right person.

There was this girl-23, 24, maybe?-brunette, curly-haired, 5’5″, and based on her outfit, a ballpark employee. She had the standard T-shirt and Dickies outfit we’ve been seeing here all week. She was walking slightly off from the crowd, dialing a flip phone, crying openly, not the clenched-jaw tears of someone hiding something, but just weeping, sobbing. God knows who she was calling… a boyfriend, a mother, a coach, a sister… but the raw emotion she was showing was compelling. She was maybe nine or 10 when Joe Carter sliced a knife through a city, scarring it for 15 years, and she cried that night, too, cried herself to sleep the way little girls do-big, choking sobs that shook her body until she had nothing left.

Not last night. Last night the tears were happy, defiant almost, shaking a wet fist back in time to that night in 1993, the one that broke her heart, but maybe formed it as well, with little seams, and a darker red hue, and a small curlicue “P” forever branded in one corner.

Yes, baseball is just fine, and maybe we’re all a little bit too close to it, we know too much, see the trees and miss the forest. Maybe that’s not even all that bad, because some people need to know how the trees grow and what kinds there are and how best to keep them tall and florid, but not everyone does. Some people can just breathe the oxygen and sit in the shade and appreciate the beauty. On a night like tonight, when that beauty fills a space so fully that you can’t imagine a world without it, you envy those people a little, the ones who express their love in a crowd, hearts on their sleeve, tears on their cheeks, and filled with all the passion this game inspires.

Baseball is just fine.

For those of us determined to count the rings and sniff the bark and determine just what shade of green we’re looking at, last night’s conclusion to Game Five provided plenty of fodder. The windup to the first plate appearance happened not quite as expected, but in a way that showed that both managers had studied the situation and come to the right conclusions.

Charlie Manuel eschewed his top two pinch-hitters in favor of Geoff Jenkins, specifically because it was just the sixth inning. “Actually, I wanted to keep [Greg] Dobbs and [Matt] Stairs both back and for the eighth or ninth inning,” Manuel said. “I might have hit for Ruiz or Feliz and the pitcher, and I wanted to keep those guys back if a righty was in the game.”

Maddon countered by leaving in Grant Balfour, confounding the expectation that he would rush to get David Price into the game, in part for the same reason Manuel went with Jenkins. “I was fine with him pitching against any left-hander right there,” Maddon said. “He was going to do that. You don’t know if it’s going to be nine, 10, 11, 12 innings or whatever.”

The decisions were considerably less surprising than the outcome, which saw Jenkins crushing a 2-2 fastball from Balfour to the track in right center for a double. The “Jenkins pulls Balfour” prop was off the board in Vegas, but there he was standing on second base, the most popular .246-hitting free-agent pickup in Phillies history. Jimmy Rollins followed with a sacrifice bunt-normally a poor move, but defensible given Balfour’s incredible strikeout rate and the difficulty of pulling him, Jenkins notwithstanding. Jayson Werth, who quietly had a ridiculous Series (.438/.591/.813 at the plate, and roaming everywhere in right field), popped a ball to short center field that Akinori Iwamura-playing on the infield grass-reached but couldn’t make a play on, dropping an attempt at a basket catch. Jenkins scored from third to give the Phillies the lead.

Two points about this play: I was tracking the ball and Iwamura, and never saw where B.J. Upton started or finished the play. Given the height of the ball, though, it’s surprising that Upton didn’t have a play. That he didn’t is even more important considering that Jenkins wasn’t tagging off of third base; if Iwamura holds the ball, he might not have scored even given where Iwamura was headed; if Upton had played it charging in, there’s no way he scores. That was a big break for the Phillies.

Down 3-2 with two lefties coming up, Maddon switched to J.P. Howell. This decision was one that he had to make, given that only a double play would have kept him from having to make it when Ryan Howard came up, so why not use a lefty for Utley? At this point, however, he’s used his top two relievers aside from Price, and he still has 10 outs to go, and his pitcher is still batting fourth in the next inning. It wasn’t a great spot, although Howell helped by disposing of Utley and Howard easily enough.

Rocco Baldelli, who just missed snagging Jenkins’ double, shocked the park by lining a first-pitch offering from Ryan Madson into the left-field grandstand to erase all the Phillies’ work, reminding us that the Rays were here for a championship, not a coronation. A Jason Bartlett single put the go-ahead run on base and set up what would be the last act in Joe Maddon’s difficult week. He allowed Howell to go to the plate and lay down a sacrifice bunt, which he did successfully.

Due up for the Phillies in the seventh were Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino, Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz. Here are their splits for 2008:


               vs. LHPs           vs. RHPs
            AVG/ OBP/ SLG      AVG/ OBP/ SLG
Burrell    .279/.406/.545     .238/.351/.492
Victorino  .282/.345/.537     .298/.355/.407
Feliz      .288/.349/.496     .231/.279/.357
Ruiz       .212/.346/.333     .220/.313/.291

This isn’t about Howell, his splits, or his skill set. You only have had to see the Rays since October 1 to know that Maddon has multi-inning relievers, ones he doesn’t have to take out the second they lose the platoon advantage. In this case, however, he was letting his pitcher bat, with the go-ahead run on first, with a full bench, with both a righty-getter (Chad Bradford) and a phenom (Price) in the bullpen, all so that he could take the worst of it in every matchup the next inning. At first, even I didn’t see it, defending the decision to let Howell bat because pinch-hitting for him would have left him burning through his bullpen far too quickly. I was wrong. The idea was right-to keep an effective pitcher in the game-but the situation, the entirety of it, called for a pinch-hitter and a reliever.

After Howard’s successful bunt, Manuel surprised me a bit by relieving Madson with J.C. Romero with Iwamura due up. I had figured Madson would go more than four batters, even considering that two had reached. Iwamura has a small platoon split and isn’t a threat to do that much more than hit a single, especially against the ground ball-throwing Madson. It seemed to me that the entire point of using Madson in the seventh was to get two innings from him, or at least get him into the eighth. Manuel, however, played the splits and went to Romero.

It almost didn’t work. Iwamura singled up the middle, with Chase Utley making a backhand snag just on the edge of the infield. Utley pivoted and faked a throw to first, then turned and made a weak one-hop throw home to try and get Bartlett, who was attempting to score from second on the play. Despite the throw, and a fantastic dive to the inside by Bartlett, Ruiz got the tag on him for the out to end the inning. If Utley goes to first, Bartlett scores easily; it was the second fantastic play of the game by the Phillies’ second baseman-remember his tag-and-throw DP Monday night-and just another example of his greatness, on display all month long.

Immediately, the decision to hit Howell backfired as Pat Burrell doubled off the left-center-field wall, missing a homer by about a foot. Maddon walked to the mound to get Howell, immediately indicting the decision he’d made minutes ago-if his commitment to Howell was that slight, then there was no way Howell should have been allowed to bat. The sequence ranks right up there with the decision to let Andy Sonnanstine face Howard in the fourth inning of Sunday’s game as Maddon’s two critical errors in the Series.

Shane Victorino failed to get a bunt down off of Chad Bradford, then grounded to second to advance the runner anyway. Having him try to bunt was suboptimal; unlike the Rollins/Balfour matchup, the most likely outcome by letting Victorino swing away was contact that would advance the runner. In fact, by turning Victorino around to the left side and bringing in the ground-ball pitcher, Maddon almost guaranteed that pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett would get to third base. A Howell/Victorino matchup, despite Victorino’s splits, would have had a much better chance of ending in a much needed strikeout. Maddon left Howell in when he should have taken him out, and took him out when he should have left him in. Tough night.

The matchup between Bradford and Feliz, like the one between Balfour and Werth, was a pretty good one for Tampa Bay. However, the much-maligned Feliz made contact, grounding a clean single back up the middle, scoring Bruntlett with the final run of the 2008 World Series. There would be drama that followed, but nothing like the seventh inning. Carl Crawford‘s leadoff single in the eighth was immediately followed, on the next pitch, by a ground ball to short from B.J. Upton that became a double play. When the Rays look back at this series, it’s plate appearances like that-not allowing a pitcher prone to wildness to work himself into trouble-that they’ll regret. Their approach in the Series, as a team, was dreadful, and the Phillies, especially Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton, repeatedly exploited it. The Rays also got a single in the ninth, even getting the runner to second base in front of a Ben Zobrist rocket to right field, but the ball settled into Werth’s glove. Three pitches later, bedlam.

In reviewing the Series, the key plate appearances all have one thing in common: Phillies’ batters beating Rays’ pitchers despite tough matchups. They didn’t beat them by much, but they made contact in spots where they might not have, and they got the ball in the air when they might not have, and they hit it to the outfield when they might not have. Ruiz made the minimum amount of contact off of Balfour, strikeout machine, in Game Three, dribbling a single for the win. Werth blooped a ball off that same strikeout machine, perfectly placed, when a strikeout would have been costly. Feliz slapped a grounder through the infield to bring home the winning run against a pitcher who lives to get grounders right at people. Even in Game One, Chase Utley kicked off the Series by homering off of Scott Kazmir, who’s allowed 11 homers to lefties in his career.

Everything we knew about these players is as true today as it was two weeks ago, but in specific situations in these five games, the Phillies beat the Rays. They outperformed the Rays in every facet of the game, but particularly in the field, on the mound, and in the dugout. They are the champions.

Thanks to all the BP readers for helping make this such a great season. I am very lucky to have this job, and with it, the best readership any writer could possibly hope for. Thanks also to our partners at Sports Illustrated, especially Christian Stone, who supplied me with both a press credential and a sounding board for story ideas.

I’m now headed west for the Arizona Fall League, ShandlerFest and, with some luck, golf. I’ll check in from Phoenix next week.

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sbnirish77
10/30
The Phillies came this far because of a bullpen that was predicted to regress to the mean as early as June, and as late as September, never really did.
sbnirish77
10/30
OK .. maybe Cole Hamels too ..
JParks
10/30
Great piece Joe. I too was shocked when Madson came out, as I was nervously picturing Chad Durbin coming out for the 10th inning. It\'s great to see a team win built almost entirely from home-grown talent and basically cast-offs (Victorino, Lidge, Romero et al.). Manny in left for the Phils next year?
hunter
10/30
Oh man, imagine having to go to J.A. Happ to get the L/L advantage over Carl Crawford or Carlos Peña.
Mountainhawk
10/30
As a Phils fan, I hope not. I\'d rather see them spend some of the $100-125M or so Manny is going to get on keeping Burrell for a 3 yr deal or so, and the rest on someone not named Adam Eaton to fill in behind Hamels and Myers.
ksalmon
10/30
October 21: \"Three of the last four World Series have been AL sweeps. The presence of Hamels makes that result unlikely, but even he won’t be enough. *Rays in six.*\" October 30: \"Everything we knew about these players is as true today as it was two weeks ago, but in specific situations in these five games, the Phillies beat the Rays. They outperformed the Rays in every facet of the game, but particularly in the field, on the mound and in the dugout. They are the champions.\" You might at least have said, \"I was wrong.\"
straightoutofhxc
10/30
Give me a break.
leez34
10/30
Come on, man. Those are predictions. Predictions are frequently wrong - such is their nature. I don\'t think one should have to apologize for them. Who cares what someone predicted? Doesn\'t it only matter what happened? The Red Sox should have beat the Yanks in the 2003 ALCS, but I doubt that makes Sox fans feel any better.
Random
10/30
Saying \"I was wrong\" is not the same as apologizing -- like you said, no apologies are necessary. But he WAS wrong. If you\'re gonna make predictions at all, you ought to be forthcoming about how they turn out.
johnpark99
10/30
I think Joe knows how his prediction turned out. I think we all know how it turned out. I don\'t need Joe to write a mea culpa. I need Joe to write yet another article that teaches me something new. And I need Joe to get to work on the 2009 annual. You know, like, productive endeavors. And to Joe: thanks in advance for all of it, and keep writing.
straightoutofhxc
10/30
Predictions are OFTEN wrong. Do you want an article from every writer that predicted the Rays to win that says \"Hey, I made a prediction of a 7 game series and it turned out wrong. I was wrong. I\'m sorry I made a wrong prediction\"? Would that really help you sleep at night?
ksalmon
10/30
So, like economists and meteorologists, baseball pundits are not to be held to any standard of accuracy. I was not asking for an apology; I was asking for full disclosure.
sanott
10/30
i love the opportunity to comment on articles, but some of the discourse is getting really petty. i mean, really, \"admit being wrong\"? \"take it back\"? \"in your face, phillies won.\" these articles are opinions, for christ sake. get over it.
Random
10/30
Man, Joe, you were really waxin\' in that intro. Didn\'t know you had it in you. Nice article -- thanks.
DWrek5
10/30
No insight here, just wanted to say congrats to the Phils fans on here. Enjoy your season as champs. Great season Joe, looking foward to the off season.
mikecha
10/30
\"After Howard\'s successful bunt...\" Um, I think you meant \"Howell.\" ;o) Great work all season long, Joe. Hot Stove time is just around the corner.
GBSimons
10/30
You know Joe secretly wanted Howard to bunt, so Howard could show he can play small ball, too.
sbnirish77
10/30
Maddon never got to do what he wanted to do - get Price into a tied game for an extended period. He had that chance starting the 6th but bypassed it. By the time Utley and Howard came up, he brought in Howell to cover the 2 lefties expecting to PH for Howell next inning being down by a run. Except Baldelli messed up that plan with his HR. So Maddon let Howell bat basically using him in the same role (exteneded IP in a tie game) that he was saving for Price. When Howell wasn\'t up to the challenge, the chance to use Price in a tie game was lost unless the game went extra innings. Maddon best chances to leverage Price in a tie game may have been to start the game in the 6th. Afterwards, the score (down by 1) and desire not to burn Howell prevented him from going back to the game plan.
drmboat
10/30
I think it\'s important to note that by letting Howell bat he took away the only reason not to bring Price into the game. I have a hard time believing that any strategic value in Price vs. Howell is different on the basis of one run.
caliphornian
10/30
Why did a team whose staff had only given up 1349 hits this year (in a DH league) end up getting beat by a fairly free-swinging team? The Phils hit .262/.371/.482 this series against stingy pitching. Does it really go back to scouting? Why did this happen?
jballen4eva
10/30
I\'m a Phillies fan, and I have no problem with Joe picking the Rays. They won more games in a tougher league, so that pick makes sense. What I would love to see is an acknowledgment that the Phillies farm system - a system that in this decade has produced Burrell, Myers, Rollins, Howard, Utley, Hamels, Floyd and Victorino (sort of) - isn\'t as bad as it\'s been described by BP in the past. Has there been a farm system that\'s produced this many quality players since 2000?
llewdor
10/30
Absolutely. You would have had to be crazy to pick the Phillies to win this thing. However, had the Rays played the season the way they played this series, everyone would have picked the Phillies. The Rays wouldn\'t have made it out of the AL East. Given how the games were played, the Phillies earned this one, and the Rays threw it away. But coming in, the Rays were the obvious favourite.
jjaffe
10/30
I guess this Kevin Goldstein article slipped by you: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=8241 \"That\'s right folks, the Phillies have more homegrown players than the Rays do in their everyday lineup, though the Rays even the score when Rocco Baldelli is in right field. Not to mention the fact that the four draftees in the Phillies lineup also constitute their four best players. \"What about the rotations? \"...Even up by the count certainly, but the Phillies\' got their first and second starters from the draft, while the Rays got their second(-ish) and fourth, so again, advantage Phillies. Mad props go to the Rays for some late signings, however: Sonnanstine is a kind of a modern-day Bob Tewksbury, and that\'s a great find in the 13th round, and is the only player from that round that year to reach the big leagues. Shields was a great find on a different level, as he was a much better talent than a 16th-round selection suggests, but most teams took a pass on picking him, assuming that he would honor his college commitment. Only the Rays properly assessed his signability. \"The lesson here is that when anyone mentions the Rays having built their team from the ground up, they miss the fact that Philadelphia actually has more players in the fold that were scouted, drafted, and developed to get them where they are.\"
jballen4eva
10/30
I stand corrected: I can\'t believe I missed this article! Thanks for the link (by the way, I really enjoy the \"how did they get here\" articles). Keep up the good work!
Mountainhawk
10/30
Thanks for the article Joe. Amazing intro.
jayhook62
10/30
Having watched the Rays all year I can tell you that Maddon had no one on the bench who could lay down a bunt. You are over analyzing the Howell at bat. If Maddon wanted a bunt, Howell was as good a choice as any without spending a PH. Regardless of what subsequently happened on the mound. Now if you are saying he shouldn\'t have considered the bunt well thats different.
straightoutofhxc
10/30
I think that\'s what he\'s saying. Maddon had Gabe Gross and Eric Hinske on the bench to hit. Which reminds me, why the hell do you pinch hit Zobrist for Bartlett when you have Gross and Hinske both available?
relliott22
10/30
For someone that normally hates the narrative approach to baseball writing, you do it remarkably well. A good writer always tries to tell us what something means in one way or another. There\'s a lot of competing perspectives in the search for meaning, you managed to take two disparate ones and make a complete whole, truly artistic.
BartPachino
10/30
Good article and great points -- agee with all your pitching comments. As an Oriole fan, while Bradford is fine, he also \"is what he is\" and is NOT the guy you want for crucial Series at bats for the other team when you have other options. That said, I think you missed one, Joe -- TB has Perez run for Navarro in the 9th and steal second on the second pitch. He steals it by a mile as Lidge can\'t hold the runner and throws a changeup every other pitch. Maddon has Zobrist up and Hinske on deck with a 1-1 count. I turn to my son and say \"he\'s gotta send Perez, one of the fastest guys in baseball to steal 3rd here so Philly has to bring the infield in, fly ball could score Perez\", etc. Remember, it\'s Perez who tagged up and scored on the shallow fly ball to JD Drew to beat Boston two Saturday nights ago. Not to mention you take away Lidge\'s pitches in the dirt with the runner on 3rd. But Maddon doesn\'t send Perez on the 1-1 pitch. Now it\'s 2-1 and Zobrist hammers a fly to RF that would have been a game tying sac fly. Very surprised you didn\'t mention that. Just thought it was SO obvious that the odds were better in getting a steal and non-hit RBI than counting on a single from Zobrist or Hinske. (Yes, I know Zobrist nailed one and in fact hit it \"too good\".)
metal1341
10/30
This was the \'06 Series all over again. Better team played terrible and got beat.
griffdog79
10/30
The \"better team\" was the team that went 11-3 in the postseason, not the team that went 8-8.
metal1341
10/30
I would argue that the Rays had a tougher road as well through Chicago and Boston opposed to Milwaukee and LA.
griffdog79
10/30
I agree with Boston, but not on the White Sox.
tombache
10/30
I\'m not so sure they were the better team -- although the Rays didn\'t play that well. The Phillies finished the season on a 24-6 run -- not quite the Rockies but pretty damn good.
jtrichey
10/30
BartPachino, you have the sequence wrong. Perez stole second on the 1-1 pitch. The ump called that pitch a strike, so the count against Zobrist was 1-2. the Fox guys, and their linescore on top of the screen thought it was 2-1, but they missed the umps strike call. With 2 strikes, Zobrist was forced to swing at any strike, and he hit the very next offering on a line to Werth. Stealing 3rd was a good idea, but they never had the opportunity.
rrkunz
10/30
I think an unexpected fear of heights was at work with the worst-to-first BabyRays. Joe Maddon didn\'t/couldn\'t make adjustments to the loss in OBA/OPS in the WS: RegSeason-340/762, LDS-351/858, LCS-326/834, WS-262/576.
fsgillispie
10/30
Beautiful old school sportswriting to start the article. Not enough of that anymore; not even by old school sportswriters. From someone who doesn\'t watch much AL ball, the Rays looked awfully good this series, even in losing. The Phils are not likely to be as good next year - too many parts are declining or will need replacing, and it\'s going to be tough for a even a great GM to fix all of it. The Rays are young and deep and talented. Yanks and Sox have their work cut out for them.
ScottBehson
10/30
Why wouldn\'t the Phillies be as good next year? Their only significant free agents are Burrell and Moyer. Hamels, Myers, Utley, Rollins and Howard are all in their primes, and Lidge, Madson, Blanton, Victorino, Werth and Ruiz are all solid compelmentary parts. They have great defense up the middle and have both speed and power. They can use some back-of-the-rotation pitching and a few tweaks, but where\'s the big hole on this team? Their payroll is reasonable, and they can either resign their FAs or sign new players. Obviously you can\'t count on as many things to go right as they did in a year when you win it all, but why wouldn\'t we all see Philly as a title contender for the next few years?
SamHughes
10/30
Amazing piece, Joe. That kind of lyricism has even more power coming from someone with your analytical skills. (Not sure how you figured out how that brunette cried 15 years ago, but you sure nailed the joyful redemption aspect.) Thanks and enjoy the AFL.
bflaff
10/30
By the way, big props to whoever (Kahrl?) wrote the Phillies entry for this year\'s Prospectus. Perfect timing for arguing that the Phils were at a tipping point this year, and that they might be a player or an adjustment away from finding real success. That\'s a feather in someone\'s cap.
bristol9
10/30
It was great to read that opening after hearing about all of the changes that baseball \"must\" make by many writers last night and today. Also, I seem to be the only person who didn\'t think Utley was trying to fake out Bartlett by pumping to first. To me, he looked like he saw that as he started to throw he decided he wasn\'t going to get Iwamura and so he held the ball so as not to risk throwing wild. He still deserves credit for being aware of the runner and not hesitating to throw home.
johnpark99
10/30
To bristol: agreed. And whether it was Utley playing a Jedi Mind Trick on Barlett or Utley making the heads-up improvised play that you described, it was just as impressive either way. And he\'ll still get fewer MVP votes than Howard. But I digress. I\'m a Phils fan, and I love \'em both.
bianchiveloce
10/31
One of the best post series articles I\'ve read. Love the first part about the crying girl. Very good analysis of the last three and half innings of Game 5.
moody01
10/31
That\'s not old-school sportswriting, fsgillispie, it\'s schmaltz. That opening is like watching Michael Scott on the Office: just hard to watch (or in this case, read).
kjgilber
11/01
Thank you Tuck! I couldn\'t believe I was reading all the kudos without anyone disagreeing. Like you, at one point I just had to scroll down. I thought the analysis was spot on, though.