Picture it, remember it:
Eric Bruntlett was on the third base. Shane Victorino was on second. Greg Dobbs was on first. Carlos Ruiz was at the plate. Five infielders were in the infield. Two outfielders were playing shallow. Matt Stairs was on deck. Jamie Moyer was in the clubhouse. Scott Eyre was sitting next to him. The television was on.
What happened next was a madhouse of motion, the result of which was the a 5-4 victory that just might have turned the tide of this series.
Grant Balfour delivered, Carlos Ruiz swung, the ball bounced in slow motion to third. Eric Bruntlett broke. Evan Longoria charged. The throw sailed high. Bruntlett hit the dirt.
Safe. Game over.
"When Chooch hit that ball," Moyer said, "I think I went from my seat to the ceiling."
In both of their postseaosn series leading up to the World Series, the Phillies fortunes turned on one game in which the odds were against them. In the NLDS, they jumped C.C. Sabathia in Game 2. In the NLCS, they got a pair of two-run home runs from Shane Victorino and Matt Stairs in the eighth inning to stage a dramatic come-from-behind win.
Yesterday, the Rays had the ALCS MVP on the mound, a righthander named Matt Garza who entered the series two handcuffings of the vaunted Red Sox. Moyer delivered, pitching 6 1/3 innings, allowing three runs. Back-to-back home runs by Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the sixth appeared give the Phillies a commanding 4-1 lead. But the Rays roared back. Things started to come unhinged.
A perfect drag bunt by Carl Crawford and an apparent blown call by first base umpire Tom Hallion put Carl Crawford on second. After a double by Dioner Navarro, two runners were in scoring position with no out. Unlike the Phillies, the Rays have thrived in those situations (the Phils were 1-for-5 last night, and are now 2-for-33 in the series). Two groundouts later, it was a 4-3 ballgame.
Things got murkier. In the eighth, B.J. Upton stole second and third and scored the winning run to tie the game at 4-4. More drama struck in the bottom half of the frame as Jayson Werth was picked off second with one out. The momentum was with the Rays.
Then came the ninth.
Eric Bruntlett was hit by a pitch. He then moved to second on a wild pitch, prompting an ill-advised throw from Navarro. The throw went into center field. Bruntlett went to third.
The Rays issued intentional walks to Shane Victorino and Greg Dobbs, then brought an extra infielder into the game.
"I was just trying to think of all the different balls that can be hit and try to react to all of those," Bruntlett said. "With the third baseman playing so close to third base, I can't get very far off the base. The last thing you want to do is get picked off or have a line drive double you off. That's part number one, with nobody out. Obviously, if a ball is on the ground, you are going. If the ball is in the air, you can do a number of different things. With two guys in the outfield, they have a lot of ground to cover, and depending on how they catch the ball, maybe give me a chance or not to score and tag up."
In the end, Ruiz sent a weak chopper to third. Evan Longoria charged. Bruntlett broke. Longoria made a rushed off-balance throw that sailed over Navarro's head. Bruntlett hit the dirt.
Citizens Bank Park went berserk.
Ruiz, whose regular season was marked by epic struggles at the plate, is suddenly one of the series' hottest players. He reached base three times yesterday. He already had two doubles and a home run in the series.
All season, Manuel was adamant in his defense of Ruiz.
"I've always had confidence in him, and more than likely, if you follow me and the way I manage, I always go back and give a guy a chance," Manuel said. "I don't give up on him, as long as he doesn't give up on himself."
Now, the Phillies are leading the series 2-1. Even a loss tomorrow would put them in commanding position, with Cole Hamels pitching in Game 5 and Brett Myers going in Game 6.
The series just might have turned on a wet Saturday night in a game that was delayed an hour-and-a-half. You could argue that a pro sports team from Philadelphia hasn't been in such a commanding position since 1983. At least not a baseball team.
Twenty-five years, and the Phillies are two wins away.
Two of the most thankful men in the ballpark last night at the end of the game were likely Jayson Werth and Tom Hallion. Werth was picked off second while representing the go-ahead run in the eighth. Hallion, meanwhile, appeared to make the wrong call on a drag bunt by Carl Crawford as Jamie Moyer made a spectacular diving grab-and-throw to Ryan Howard, who barehanded the ball. Television replays appeared to show that Crawford was out by a half a step. Hallion ruled him safe, which led to the Rays' two runs.
"As an umpire, you never want to be involved in the outcome of the game, any umpire that you have," Hallion said afterward. "I would just say that we don't like to be involved in something like that. We like to get every play right. We're human beings and sometimes we get them wrong."
What did he see?
"The ball down the first base line, and I tried to get the best angle on it. And it wound up being a great play by Jamie and Howard. And again, I really didn't get a sound to be able to judge. It winds up being a great play. And looking at a replay here, they just got him. So kudos for them, because they made a great play."
That's it for tonight. The networks may not like this series, but for baseball fans, I can't imagine a better one. Three tremendous games thus far, all decided by one or two runs.
What more can you ask for?