PHILADELPHIA —From losingest team to longest game, the Philadelphia Phillies are World Series champions.
Strange as that sounds.
Strange as it was.
Brad Lidge and the Phillies finished off the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 in a three-inning sprint Wednesday night to win a suspended Game 5 nearly 50 hours after it started.
Left in limbo by a two-day rainstorm, the Phillies seesawed to their first championship since 1980. Pedro Feliz singled home the go-ahead run in the seventh and Lidge closed out his perfect season to deliver the title Philly craved for so long.
“It was a crazy way to win it with a suspended game but we did and it’s over and we’re very excited,” 45-year-old Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer said. “It has been a long wait, but it’s worth it.”
Bundled in parkas and blankets, fans returned in force to Citizens Bank Park and saw the city claim its first major sports championship in 25 years. No more references needed to those sad-sack Phillies teams in the past and their 10,000-plus losses.
“They could taste it just as much as we could,” Series MVP Cole Hamels said.
It was among the wackiest endings in baseball history, a best-of-seven series turned into a best-of-3 1/2 showdown when play resumed in the bottom of the sixth inning tied at 2.
How bizarre? Hamels was a star in Game 5—and the ace never stepped on the mound Wednesday night; Two Rays relievers warmed up to start, and there was a pinch-hitter before a single pitch; “God Bless America” was sung rather than the national anthem, and it was quickly followed by the seventh-inning stretch.
All because the game was suspended Monday night after rain made the field into a quagmire, washing out the foul lines, creating a puddle at home plate and turning every ball an adventure. Commissioner Bud Selig eventually called it— he got booed when he presented the MVP trophy to Hamels.
For Philly, it was more than a World Series win. It was a bit of redemption for all the losses, the jokes, the slights.
Finally, something to celebrate.
How much did Philly fans want a champion to call its own?
Well, the sports hero they point to with the most pride isn’t even a real person—Rocky Balboa.
Yo, Adrian … the Phillies did it!
“It’s over,” shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. “It’s over, man.”
Lidge went 48-for-48 on save chances this year, including two this week. He retired two batters with a runner on second, striking out pinch-hitter Eric Hinske to end it.
Lidge jumped in front of the mound, landing on his knees with arms outstretched. Catcher Carlos Ruiz ran out to grab him, and teammates sprinted to the mound to join them as towel-waving fans let loose.
“At first, I couldn’t believe it. And then the gravity of what happened hit me,” Lidge said.
A generation ago, it was Tug McGraw who went wild when the Phillies won their first title. A few days after country singer Tim McGraw scattered his dad’s ashes on the mound, it was Lidge’s turn to throw the final pitch.
Despite low TV ratings and minus the majors’ most glamorous teams, fans will always remember how this one wrapped up. And for the first time in a long while, kids saw a World Series champion crowned before bedtime.
“I believe this firmly, our guys are not going to be satisfied without playing in October from now on,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “And that’s a good thing. And that’s all because of this group of people this year.”
Reliever J.C. Romero got the win, his second of the Series.
Hamels went 4-0 in five postseason starts, beating the Rays in Game 1 and pitching six sharp innings in the rain during Game 5. He was set to be the first batter when the game resumed, and was immediately pulled for a pinch-hitter.
While former NL MVPs Ryan Howard and Rollins drive the Phillies, it was their less-heralded teammates who helped win it on this chilly night.
Tied at 3, Pat Burrell led off the seventh with a drive off the center-field wall against J.P. Howell. Chad Bradford relieved and one out later Feliz singled home pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett.
Rocco Baldelli’s solo home run off Ryan Madson made it 3-all in the top of the seventh. The Rays almost got more, but All-Star second baseman Chase Utley alertly bluffed a throw to first on a grounder over the bag and instead threw out Jason Bartlett at the plate.
Pinch-hitter Geoff Jenkins, the first batter Wednesday night, doubled and later scored on Jayson Werth’s bloop single.
In all, there were six new pitchers, three pinch-hitters and two pinch-runners when play restarted.
Manager Charlie Manuel, whose NL East champions clinched a playoff spot in the final week, guided the Phillies’ second overall championship in six World Series tries. The Phils helped themselves by going 7-0 at home this postseason, beating Milwaukee and the Dodgers in the NL playoffs and then defeating the Rays.
“I always thought we’d win the World Series. I knew we could beat anyone in the league,” Manuel said.
Once known as a city of champions, Philadelphia sports fell on hard times after Julius Erving and Moses Malone led the Sixers to that 1983 title.
Since then, the Phillies, Eagles, Sixers and Flyers made it to the championship game or round—seven times, in total—and lost all of them.
The city became so starved for a crown that it was ready to throw a parade down Broad Street for a horse. But local colt Smarty Jones lost, too, in his bid for the Triple Crown.
“People enjoy being associated with winning and a world championship is the ultimate,” Mike Schmidt, MVP of the Phillies’ other championship, wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press this week. “It unites a town behind one team.”
Cheesesteaks, on the house.
Tampa Bay did itself proud, too, until this final week. Baseball’s best success story this season, the worst-to-first Rays played like the downtrodden Devil Rays from the past decade.
Even so, the gap between the Phils and Rays wasn’t enormous. Had Evan Longoria’s late, long drive off Jamie Moyer in Game 3 not been blown back by the wind, the teams might still be playing.