PHILADELPHIA -- Of course the whole night was weird. The little, 3½-inning mini-matinee. A pinch hitter leading off. The infield being pulled in for a play at the plate only three batters in. Four pitching changes before the game was 10 hitters old. The first suspended game in World Series history, resulting in a 46-hour "rain delay."
But most bizarre thing of all wasn't that it was arguably the most unusual game in World Series history.
No, the most bizarre thing of all was that when the game ended, the Philadelphia Phillies were champions.
For only the second time, remarkably, in 104 World Series.
It wasn't a great World Series. It was the fifth consecutive Series that failed to last more than five games. And though three of the five were decided by one run, there were no lead changes. Not one. Zero.
But you know what? Try telling the people of Philadelphia it wasn't a great World Series. Try telling guys like manager Charlie Manuel, closer Brad Lidge, team leader Jimmy Rollins and slugging first baseman Ryan Howard.
Closer Tug McGraw striking out Kansas City's Willie Wilson in 1980 followed by Lidge whiffing Tampa Bay's Eric Hinske in 2008, a pair of gleaming bookends to hold those precious VCR/DVD highlight videos.
Or, as Manuel was thinking as he watched Lidge mow down the Rays in as emotional a ninth inning as they've played in a long, long time in this city:
"I've got Mr. Perfect on the mound. Damn, I hope the law of averages don't catch up to him."
It never did, as Lidge converted his 48th save opportunity in 48 chances.
But the law of averages finally caught up to the long-suffering Phillies.
|Philly manager Charlie Manuel still isn't beyond criticism, but now you have to call him a World Series winner. (AP)|
"He did it differently than I did," said Dallas Green, the manager of that 1980 team, of Manuel. "But that's what managing's all about.
"What the hell, he's got a ring. People bitched and moaned about my managing, but I got a ring. He and I are the only two with rings in, what, 120 years? I welcome him with open arms. He's been through a lot with (the media), the fans ... that (managing) seat is a tough seat anywhere. And especially in Philadelphia."
When Manuel arrived as a special assistant to then-general manager Ed Wade in 2003, he was viewed simply as one of high-priced free agent Jim Thome's accessories. Manuel was Thome's beloved hitting coach -- and then manager -- in Cleveland. His presence alone, in the early days, simply caused people to look sideways and quizzically at him.
But then Larry Bowa was fired as manager, the Phillies needed someone who could help the players relax, and Manuel's specialty is that. And to his credit, when legendary general manager Pat Gillick was tabbed to replace Wade after the 2005 season, he eschewed the usual GM method of firing people first and asking questions later, and he retained Manuel.
"I think it says a whole lot about him," said Manuel of Gillick, who is expected to retire. "For him to be in the game, and talk to guys he knows ... I'm sure some of them told him some of the things I could do.
"When he was first hired, he took a lot of grief, took a lot of crap ... I want to thank him. He always had faith in me. He used to tell me how good he thought I could do."
On a frigid Wednesday night in October, mission accomplished.
And how about Lidge? He arrived with more October baggage than the Great Pumpkin. His playoff failures in Houston are well chronicled. Talk about a new chapter, and redemption.
"Whatever happens in the future, they can't ever take this away from us," Lidge practically shouted on the field minutes after the game while 44,000 or so fans provided the bedlam around him. "With two strikes (on Hinske), I had to step off the mound. ...
"I don't know what was going through my mind. It was like the first time I've ever pitched in a big league game. Your legs are heavy. You're short of breath."
In that department, he wasn't alone -- especially as this World Series oddity resumed after the 46-hour wait. It didn't so much simply restart as it fired out of the blocks with the starter's pistol.
With a sense of urgency evident -- the game had resumed with a 2-2 score, remember, and the Phillies sure didn't want to take an overnight flight to Tampa for Game 6 -- Jenkins had received a briefing from Rollins just before walking up to the plate.
"I went up there and I told Jenks right before he batted, 'This isn't the bottom of the first, it's the bottom of the sixth. Now go act like it,' " Rollins said. "I didn't want us acting like this was a new game.
"The last 36 hours, I kept playing the game over and over and over in my head."
The guess here is that Rollins squeezed in a little sleep during those other 10 hours but, crazy as this has been, who knows?
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So Jenkins was on second, the crowd was on its feet and Rollins, last year's NL MVP, knew what he had to do: Bunt. So he did, and now the Phillies had a runner on third with only one out.
"I was hoping he'd get a triple so I could swing," Rollins said.
So the game was barely five minutes old, and Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon ordered his infield in for a play at the plate with Jayson Werth stepping in.
"This kind of goes along with everything else around here," Werth said of the oddity of the situation.
Ignoring everything but reliever Grant Balfour standing 60 feet, 6 inches in front of him, Werth dropped an RBI single that barely eluded second baseman Akinori Iwamura’s grasp in shallow center field to give the Phillies a 3-2 lead.
"It was definitely different," Werth said. "I've never been a part of something like that before.
"But I've never been to a World Series, either."
Normally, Madson is summoned to work the seventh (sometimes) or eighth (usually) inning, and it's a couple of hours into a game. On this World Series evening, he was Philadelphia's first pitcher in. Manuel told him right after batting practice to prepare to "start."
"I wish they would have rang the bullpen phone and we'd have gone from there," said Madson, who wasn't sharp, giving up a run and two hits in two-thirds of an inning. "But it wasn't too bad."
Especially when second baseman Chase Utley made a terrific play with Jason Bartlett on second later in the inning, fielding a ground ball and faking a throw to first. That tricked Bartlett, who blew around third and figured he could make it home with the go-ahead run while Utley was throwing to first.
Mistake. Utley instead fired home, and catcher Carlos Ruiz made a terrific catch and tag to nail Bartlett.
Then, not long after the crowd sung Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the seventh-inning stretch -- only 27 minutes into the "game" -- Phillies slugger Pat Burrell broke out of his 0-for-13, five-strikeout World Series slump with a leadoff double. Pedro Feliz's single drove home Eric Bruntlett, who was running for Burrell, and then it was all up to Lidge.
"It's amazing -- something like this comes together and works out for everyone. ... It's an incredible, amazing feeling," the closer said.
It also wasn't a slam dunk. Lidge allowed a one-out single to Dioner Navarro, Maddon inserted speedster Fernando Perez to pinch run, and he immediately moved into scoring position by stealing second. But lefty Ben Zobrist, batting for Baldelli, lined out to right, and then came Hinske.
"I saw him swing over the top of a slider," Lidge said of strike three. "I saw Carlos' glove pick up the ball, and I knew it was a strikeout.
"I couldn't believe it. I didn't know how to react."
So, in the moment that will be freeze-framed forever in this city, he dropped to his knees just in front of the mound, Ruiz ran out and hugged him, Howard came flying in fiercely like Mike Singletary in his prime looking to behead the quarterback ... and the celebration was on.
"I was coming in for the tackle," the 6-4, 256-pound (according to the media guide, not the eyeballs) Howard said. "I was taking some guys out.
"But I knew I was on top of Lidge, and I tried to keep my weight above him to protect him."
By then, it was a Phillies dogpile, the ovation from the crowd was deafening and smiles and tears were everywhere.
"It means a lot to me, but more importantly it means so much to us and to this city," said longtime Phillies president Dave Montgomery. "That wonderful period we had from the mid-'70s to the early '80s (the Phillies now have won back-to-back NL East titles for the first time since 1976 through 1978, and their first World Series since '80, and they appeared in the '83 World Series as well). ...
"I'm thrilled. Nowhere can you match the passion of Phillies fans. You saw it here tonight. The enthusiasm and the energy in the stands was unbelievable."
And that little 46-hour interruption in the sixth inning?
"We waited this long; what's another 48 hours?" Montgomery said, putting to words what everyone in this area must be thinking.
The Phillies' closing argument was spectacular. Evoking memories of the 2007 Colorado Rockies (24-6 down the stretch), they won 25 of their final 30 games. Unlike those Rockies, the Phillies closed the deal. They went 7-0 at home during the postseason.
They won it with power. Since 1970, only one other club (the 2002 Giants, with 14) hit more home runs than the Phillies' nine in World Series play.
They won it with pitching. Phillies starters worked at least six innings in every game, going 2-1 with a 3.34 ERA.
And they won it with patience, out-walking Tampa Bay 31-10.
And that problem with runners in scoring position (9-for-57, .158)?
Rollins has a thought on that.
"Clutch hitting tonight," he said of Werth and Ruiz. "You talk about those problems with runners in scoring position, but we came through like we did tonight all year long."
So crown them, and place them on the mantel right next to their 1980 predecessors.
The two managers, Manuel and Green.
"I think it speaks for itself," Manuel said. "I don't have to say nothing. Why should I say anything? You win a World Series ring, you automatically become a winner."
Lidge and McGraw. Burrell and Greg Luzinski. Rollins and Larry Bowa. Utley and Mike Schmidt.
And what do they all think it means?
"It means a win is forever," Rollins said. "You win a World Series championship, they can never take that away. Never. Never ever. Never ever. Dot, dot, dot. ... "