TWENTY-EIGHT years vanished in the heartbeat it took for Brad Lidge to deliver one final, unhittable slider to Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz.
Then, 1980 was suddenly 2008 and it was Lidge, not Tug McGraw, leaping joyously into the gelid South Philly air, and waiting for an avalanche of whooping teammates to engulf him. Brad sank to his knees in a spread-eagle prayer, beckoning toward Ruiz, who leaped into his arms.
Willie Wilson then, Tampa Bay Rays pinch-hitter Eric Hinske last night. The fathers then, their sons and daughters now. They bellowed the two decades plus 8 years draught away in a celebration that had built up for so long that the nation had been served by four Presidents serving a total of seven terms.
Ironically, the continuation of the most bizarre Game 5 in World Series history-delayed exactly 46 hours by a malady called Commishis Interruptis-was pushed back to 8:40 p.m. by a costly 30-minute infomercial by Barack Obama, the man the polls say will be elected president in 5 days.
There were no mounted police officers this time, no attack dogs baring their fangs or truncheon-bearing SWAT team members, exploding fireworks glinting off their lowered helmet shields.
As the bullpen gate swung open and the relievers and coaches there began the sprint toward the writhing dog pile of regulars and reserves that every player dreams of joining, a token force of nine officers on motorcycles rimmed the outfield warning track, lights flashing. The crowd was too busy high-fiving, man-hugging, woman-kissing, child-lifting and releasing enough pent-up emotion to light the city for a year to take notice of the subtle police presence.
MVP Cole Hamels came close to being the winning pitcher even though he had thrown his 75th pitch in an arctic monsoon Monday night, gutting his way through a sixth inning where his only weapon was a changeup because the baseball was so slick and his fingers so numb. And the Lords of Baseball prayed for him to allow a run so they could run their little, butt-saving gambit. Cole was still in the lineup until Geoff Jenkins hit for him leading off the bottom of the inning of a game tied 2-2 - no-thanks to some of the most inept and controversial rule-bending and administrative prevarication in the history of the pastime.
And when Jenkins greeted Aussie reliever Grant Balfour with a booming double over Rocco Baldelli in right-center, when Jimmy Rollins sacrificed him to third and when Jayson Werth scored him with a single to center, Hamels was three scoreless innings away from his fifth victory of the postseason.
Baldelli blew up that story line with a lusty one-out homer off Ryan Madson that retied the score at 3-3, evoking one of history's largest mass oh-nos from 45,940 throats. Bud Selig's decision to pull the plug on a Game 5 that never should have begun in the first place - after permitting the Phillies to play defense on the worst track in postseason history - briefly loomed large.
But Charlie Manuel had a plan for his offense and knew how he would use his bullpen in this endgame to beat all Phillies endgames, this perfect ending to a giddy 11-3 run through the Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers and a Tampa Bay Rays team of gifted young stars that shocked the mighty American League East in the regular season, then stunned the Red Sox, defending world champions.
In what could be his final at-bat of the Phillies career he resuscitated with solid 2007-8 seasons, Pat Burrell began the eighth with a double to deep center that just missed leaving the Bank. Defensive caddie Eric Bruntlett pinch-ran and took third on Shane Victorino's bouncer to second after failing to get down a bunt.
History will record that Pedro Feliz, brilliant on defense all year but an offensive disappointment, drove in the winning run with a single to center off soft-tossing submariner Chad Bradford.
Lidge did not have his best stuff. He was pitching with a week's rest, thanks to Bud and the blowout 10-2 win. His drop-dead slider has had nastier bite. His fastball has had more late life. After popping up Rays wunderkind Evan Longoria, who squeezed his bat handle to sawdust in the Series, catcher Dioner Navarro provided the obligatory "uh-oh, oh-no" moment that is a fan's birthright around here. He lined a single to right and pinch-hitter Ben Zobrist waited until pinch-runner Fernando Perez stole second before ripping a sinking liner to right that Werth caught knee-high, hit hard enough to hoist a "bleep" in nearly every throat.
Hinske came up. He was just added to the active roster before Game 4 and the lefthanded power hitter hit the hardest ball of the Series by either team, a mammoth drive that violated the ivy halfway up the brick wall in center, one of the few blemishes on a superb Joe Blanton performance that featured a lusty home run of his own.
Manuel was wonderful in the interview room - folksy, humble, feisty, a little bit country; a little bit rock and roll. He fenced with former detractors from his Cleveland days and was not afraid to puff his chest a little.
Somebody asked Charlie if he was out to prove something to the people in Cleveland.
"I wasn't working on trying to prove anything," he said. "Don't take this in a cocky way . . . I already knew how good I was."
This will be remembered in the land of the Philly-bashers and the believers that no World Series that excludes the Yankees or Red Sox is worth the number of people who will fall asleep trying to watch it. Especially if it includes a small-market upstart like Tampa Bay.
But you will manage to live with the knowledge that this was the least-watched Series in history- no thanks to a pair of epic rain storms here and the actions of a clueless commissioner who should be turned out of office at the next owners' meeting.
You will live with it because these Phillies made 28 years of waiting go away. They turned in their own version of the Tug McGraw-Bob Boone ending.
And now all you need is a player to hold your favorite tabloid newspaper aloft Friday and bellow a paraphrase of McGraw's famed message to New York: "The rest of the country can take this World Series and stick it!" *
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