Rich Hofmann: Believe it or not, Phillies are champs

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The Phillies celebrate the franchise's first World Series title since 1980 and the city's first championship since 1983. (Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer)

Originally published on October 30, 2008

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS joined them all, fans and Phillies, young and old, diehards and cynics, as pitcher Brad Lidge dropped to his knees in front of the mound. History will record the final out was a strikeout of Tampa Bay's Eric Hinske. It was 9:58 p.m. The hour of redemption was upon them all.

Catcher Carlos Ruiz reached Lidge first as Citizens Bank Park erupted. So that's what it sounds like, after all? Ryan Howard rushed in from first base and bowled over both Lidge and Ruiz, and then the real pileup began. People hugged, jumped, danced in the seats. One guy held up a sign that said, "Yo Adrian, We Did It."

Twenty-five years. And Jimmy Rollins said, "It's over, man. It's over."

The ballpark was filled by proxies - 25 current Phillies players representing decades of a franchise filled mostly by despair; 45,000 fans standing and yelling on behalf of millions of their fellow citizens, some who had lost their voices, others who had lost all hope after a quarter-century without a major sports championship.

As Philadelphians, we seem to grow wary when things begin

going too well. We fear success sometimes. We are frightened by perfection. It would take an hour and an advanced degree in sociology to explain it, but we all know it is true.

But we will know forever now that Lidge, the closer who never blew a save all season, led them in the end to a 4-3 victory, led the franchise to its first championship in 28 years. And teammate Ryan Madson said, "It's a good thing he was perfect because this is unbelievable. It was a lot of hard work and it's all for a reason now."

An hour beforehand, it was still hard to know. The seats at Citizens Bank Park, dark blue and mostly empty, sat unopened in the cold. You could imagine the ticketholders huddling elsewhere, in the concourse, around their cars and their coolers, trying to stay warm, stamping their feet, pondering their fate, waiting.

They had arrived here early Monday night filled with hope and departed a few hours later, wet and exhausted, sentenced to 2 more days. "Only in Philly," came the simple message from a buddy, and it was echoed a million-fold throughout the region. This is a place that has found comfort in misery over the last quarter-century. So, rain? Of course.

They came to see 3 1/2 innings, the resumption of a suspended World Series game, the final, labored sprint at the end of a 25-year marathon. And you wondered - what it would feel like when a Philadelphia team finally won?

It felt like sprayed champagne in your eyes and fans who didn't want to leave, who chanted for Phils manager Charlie Manuel to come back out of the clubhouse nearly 90 minutes after the game ended.

It looked like relief pitcher Chad Durbin, kneeling down on the pitching mound, scooping up a handful of dirt and sifting it into the tiny hand of one of his children.

It looked like 45-year-old pitcher Jamie Moyer, standing on the field, doing an interview and then excusing himself to run over and get into a picture with his wife and children. It will make one hell of a Christmas card.

Twenty-five years. "What can they say now that we're world champions?" Rollins said. "Twenty-five years they've waited. I was barely born."

It was so odd, the whole night. It will forever be a part of the lore. No one had ever seen what all of us just saw, a World Series game suspended by rain and resumed 46 hours later. The Phillies were leading the Rays by three games to one, and they needed only one more win, one more for the title, and no one had ever been a part of such a crownus interruptus - not here, not anywhere.

And this is how they took the lead: In the bottom of the seventh, Pedro Feliz singled, through a drawn-in infield, to score Eric Bruntlett. Bruntlett was pinch-running for Pat Burrell, who had doubled high off of the wall in left-center to lead off the inning. The batter before, Bruntlett had advanced to third on a groundout by Shane Victorino after Victorino failed twice to get down a bunt.

Look at that sequence. Feliz, brought here mostly for his glove. Bruntlett, a spare part. Burrell, a lifer here, maybe in his last Phillies at-bat. Victorino, part of the young, new energy on the roster.

Four players. One run. The end of an era that Philadelphia swore would not define us but very likely did.

Now there will be a championship ring. "Everybody always wants to see the ring," Manuel said. " . . . The symbol is that you're a winner . . . I want to be known as a winner. That kind of tells the story."

Twenty-five years. So this is what it feels like. *

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