Morning glory for Phillies
Originally published on October 26, 2008
The Phillies got so sick of hearing about their futility with runners in scoring position, they changed the definition of "scoring position."
In rain-delayed Game 3 of the World Series, the little chalk boxes next to home plate were scoring position. Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley and, at long last, Ryan Howard drove moonshot solo home runs on two different days to build a 4-1 lead.
When the game was on the line, though, the Phillies had to face their inability to deliver a clutch hit with a runner on second and third. Thanks to three small-ball runs by Tampa Bay, the Phillies found themselves all tied up in the bottom of the ninth and, with the clock approaching 2 a.m., facing the situation that has haunted them all series.
Eric Bruntlett, who was hit by a pitch and advanced on a wild pitch and throwing error, stood on third base with nobody out. He was a runner in scoring position for a team that had one hit in 32 at-bats with RISP in this series.
With the bases loaded after two intentional walks, Ruiz tapped the biggest little hit of his life. The man who slammed one out of the park in the second inning, whose throwing error allowed the Rays to tie it up, won the game with a 20-foot single down the third base line.
Phillies 5, Tampa Bay Rays 4 on the scoreboard.
1:47 on the clock. Game 3 didn't want to start and didn't want to end.
The Phillies are two wins from the city's first championship parade in a quarter-century.
They won with a single but were in position to do so because of home runs.
Utley hit one Wednesday in St. Pete.
Ruiz hit one Saturday night in Citizens Bank Park.
Utley and, at long last, Howard hit back-to-back bombs early Sunday morning, giving Jamie Moyer a 3-run lead and give everyone in the Bank a chance to exhale. The sixth-inning homers changed the temperature of what had been a taut pitcher's showdown between 45-year-old Moyer and 24-year-old Matt Garza.
The Rays, who bashed homers all over Fenway Park to eliminate the Boston Red Sox, tied the game up with baserunning smarts and situational hitting to erase that lead. The American League team continued to out-National League-ing the NL team. Of the Rays' last 8 runs, only one was driven in with a base hit.
It is supposed to be the AL that plays for the home run, but the Phillies have been guilty of that in this series so far.
That's fine when Utley and Howard are going back-to-back with shots into the rightfield seats, not so fine when they are striking out back-to-back in the eighth.
There is nothing as thrilling as a home run in the World Series, nothing as boring as a runner advancing 90 feet on a fielder's choice groundout. Both count the same on the scoreboard, though, something the Rays used against the Phillies in Games 2 and 3.
In the first two games of this series, the Phillies managed a split despite getting just one hit, an infield single, with runners in scoring position. They were historically bad -- 1-for-28 overall -- with runners on second or third.
The Phillies were 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position in the first inning. But Jimmy Rollins' leadoff single developed into a small-ball run thanks to a walk of Jayson Werth, a wild pitch by Garza and a groundout by Utley.
They didn't add to their RISP futility for a long stretch because Garza kept them RISP-less.
They added to their run total, though.
It started, improbably, with Ruiz. The catcher had a pair of doubles in Game 2 and was stranded on the basepaths both times. That was considered an exceptional night for the one man who plays every day regardless of his offense. Catcher is that important a position, and Ruiz has been on the receiving end of the Phillies' outstanding postseason pitching.
Ruiz had a game of mood swings. He crushed a pitch into the leftfield seats to give the Phillies a 2-1 run lead in the second. He made a crushing throwing error in the eighth, a ball that bounced away from third baseman Pedro Feliz and allowed B.J. Upton to score the tying run.
Finally, fittingly, Ruiz came to the plate in the situation that had frozen Phillies batters for most of the three games. Bases loaded, nobody out. Finally, fittingly, the No. 8 hitter in the lineup delivered the biggest little hit of the night.
Game 3 turned out to be worth waiting for, and Philadelphia had to wait 15 years plus 91 torrential minutes. As frustrating as the long delay and late start are, they wound up having no impact on the people who matter most -- the players and the fans.
Moyer, Rollins and Ruiz were on top of their game at the start. So was the sellout crowd, which roared with each Rays out and did a masterful job on the unfortunately named rookie Evan Longoria.
The chants of "Eva, Eva" were so loud, you'd have thought every Philadelphian from Wm. Penn on down was in full throat. The Fox cameras even caught Rays manager Joe Maddon (who is, after all, from Hazleton, Pa.) in the dugout, laughing -- until Longoria struck out in his first two at-bats.
Ten, 20, 30 years from now, when Philadelphians look back on the 2008 World Series, this is what they're going to remember: "Eva" and Moyer's performance and Chooch's rocket and back-to-back bombs from Utley and Howard.
And they will remember Bruntlett, the runner in scoring position, sliding safely home with the clock approaching 2 o'clock on Sunday morning.