Phillies end championship drought with Game 5 defeat of Rays
Originally published October 29, 2008
IT ENDED as it should have, with a perfect closer dropping to his knees and lifting his arms to the heavens, with a bat making contact with nothing but air, with 46,000 people waving and jumping and screaming in front of seats they never had a chance to use.
It ended after 25 years, plus 48 hours, at 9:58 on a frigid October evening.
It ended with camera bulbs popping and police lights flashing and all of it melting into a beautiful technicolor bliss as a sea of white jerseys spilled out of the dugout and onto the mound.
A sentence that has been 28 years in the making can now be written.
The Phillies are world champions.
"It's not easy in Philadelphia," veteran lefthander Jamie Moyer said as the Phillies celebrated a 4-3 victory over Tampa Bay that gave the city its first major sports championship in 25 years. "But when you win, it makes it that much sweeter."
It came at the end of one of the most calamitous 48-hour periods in the history of the World Series, one in which Game 5 was suspended in the middle of the sixth inning Monday night during a downpour. But it could not have finished more appropriately, with a double by 9-year veteran Pat Burrell setting up the winning run in the seventh and closer Brad Lidge shutting down the ninth to record his 48th consecutive save of the season.
The final out came at just before 10, on a slider that has carried Lidge to greatness, one that Rays hitter Eric Hinske did not come close to hitting.
"It's honestly very hard to control my emotions right now," said Lidge, who saved his seventh game of the postseason. "This is so incredible. I'm so happy to be here. I thank God, Jesus Christ, my family. These fans are amazing. I couldn't be happier right now."
Said backup catcher Chris Coste: "You couldn't write it up much better."
The previous 24 hours had been a study in patience, one last unforseen challenge for a team that has spent all season overcoming them. When they took the field late Monday afternoon for what was supposed to be the crowning moment of their careers, destiny seemed at hand. They had won their first two games at home, taking a 3-1 lead and putting themselves in position to become just the second team in the wild-card era to win the World Series while going undefeated at home. The only other squad in their company was the Yankees, an organization with a history far different than the one the Phillies were trying to erase. Their ace lefthander was on the mound, a 24-year-old superstar with a chance to set a postseason record for wins.
Then came the wind, and then the rain, and then the tarp, and then the sudden realization that if they were indeed to take the final step to championdom, they would do so in a fashion never before seen.
But by the time the Phillies took the field last night and the crowd took their seats and Geoff Jenkins led off the game (er, sixth inning) with a monster pinch-hit double off the wall in centerfield, all the events of the previous 2 days - and, for that matter, the previous 2 1/2 decades - faded into the background.
The wind chill in the 30s, the upstart Rays, the 2-day layoff between innings - gone.
"It was so cold, and once we got out here, we didn't feel cold anymore," Coste said. "It was like the energy of the stadium brought it from feeling like the 30s to feeling like it was 75. That's what it felt like when we got out here. It was incredible. Our crowd basically warmed us up."
Even after Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli negated the run Jenkins ultimately scored with a solo home run in the top of the seventh, the emotion refused to run dry.
Burrell, whose performance and imperfections have cemented himself into Philadelphia lore, led off the seventh with a double to the deepest part of the ballpark. After exiting the game for pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett, who later scored the winning run on Pedro Feliz' single, he was met with a thunderous roar.
"To be able to help this team and to give this championship to this city, this is a dream come true," said Burrell, who first broke into the big leagues as a 23-year-old outfielder playing for a Phillies team that finished 69-93. "I don't have the words to express it."
Afterward, they partied. Bill Giles, the Phillies' longtime chairman. David Montgomery, the team's longtime president. As beers popped and champagne flowed in the clubhouse afterward, Burrell stood in the middle of it all, gazing at nothing in particular with a towel covering his mouth.
The journey that started in 1980 came to its much-anticipated conclusion last night. It did so thanks to a cast of homegrown talent and castoffs. Bruntlett, the "other guy" in the trade that brought Lidge to Philadelphia in the offseason, scored the winning run. Outfielder Jayson Werth, signed as a little-known free agent in 2007 coming off a potentially career-ending wrist injury, hit .444 for the series.
And then there was Cole Hamels, the young lefthander, the one-time top prospect, who earned the series MVP despite watching his stellar, six-inning outing cut short due to Monday's rain.
"We're losers no more," first baseman Ryan Howard said. "The organziation, we're winners. Nobody can take that away from the city of Philadelphia, and nobody can take that away from us."
High above it all, the wind still blowing, the city lights still shining in the background, a solitary red banner hovered silently, enjoying its final few moments alone.
"This is for Philadelphia," Charlie Manuel said as he was presented with the Commissioner's Trophy.
Never before has a manager been so right. *