Why the delay may be the best thing to happen to this Series
The World Series between the Rays and Phillies has been disappointing
The quick finish to Game 5 should be seen as an excellent opportunity for MLB
The Phillies will still have a decided edge when play resumes
PHILADELPHIA -- What we'll be watching on Wednesday night -- well, hopefully we'll get to watch it, anyway -- won't be baseball as we know it. It'll look like baseball, if you ignore the parkas and the earflaps. It might sound like a muffled version of baseball. There'll be plenty of spitting and plenty of Tim McCarver. We'll have umpires, though the way they've umped this October, that's probably not a good thing.
But the continuation of Game 5 in this World Series will be, in a lot of ways, just what baseball prides itself on not being: something for the short-attention span generation, a game on fast-forward.
In other words, it's exactly what this ratings-famished World Series needs.
On Tuesday, after it was announced that Game 5 would be delayed again, Rays manager Joe Maddon likened the quick finish to overtime, saying, "It's a sudden-victory, almost to that point."
It's funny, and somewhat fitting in this oddball World Series between the Rays and Phillies, that the last couple of innings of a sodden game that maybe shouldn't have been started in the first place and that almost certainly shouldn't have lasted as long as it did -- and then was flat-out stopped, the first time that's been done in Series history -- may well be its defining moment. Would anyone be surprised if Wednesday's Game 5.5 is the best part of this Series? Would anyone be stunned if it draws the biggest TV audience?
How compelling, how odd, how utterly un-baseball-like is a Series game, a do-or-die for the Rays, that begins anew with the National Anthem and then starts with the score tied in the middle of the sixth inning?
This is the best thing that could have ever happened to Major League Baseball and Fox in this Series. It's October baseball like we've never seen before. A reliever is throwing the first pitch. A pinch-hitter will be at the plate. It's as if we've TiVo'ed right through the first 5½ innings and picked it up at the nail-biting part. What's more, it gives baseball a chance to re-write the ending to the Series, perhaps extend it back to its starting city for the first time in five years, and get everyone to forget about the sloppy play, questionable umpiring and stormy weather that has defined it to this point.
And to think it all started with a little rain ...
After the game was suspended Monday night, and throughout Tuesday when the resumption of the game was postponed, many around Philadelphia continued to question whether the game should have been started in the first place and whether MLB had any real expectation of getting it in, given the forecasts. "No way. If they wanted to do a five-inning game, maybe," said Glenn "Hurricane" Schwartz, the chief meteorologist for the NBC-TV affiliate in Philadelphia and a longtime baseball fan. "But there was no way they were going to get nine innings in.
"There were forecasts in town that predicted only a few showers during the evening. And apparently they paid attention to them. In this case they talked to the wrong people."
It was sometime in the middle of the afternoon on Monday when Schwartz decided that the storm approaching town was going to be worse than many expected. Five hours before the 8:30ish first pitch, Schwartz was telling people that the start of the game would be fine. But it would get pretty nasty after that.
"This was a particularly interesting storm," Schwartz said on Tuesday. "It developed very quickly. And even the day before there wasn't much of an indication that the storm was going to be anything like this."
Meanwhile, baseball officials were busy consulting a handful of weather services of their own, all of whom said that the game would be fairly dry at the start, and what came after that, the crack grounds crew at Citizens Bank Park could handle. Commissioner Bud Selig hedged with the decision to go ahead -- he said he made it with some "significant trepidation" -- but with October running out and Fox beckoning, he gave the signal.
Over at Channel 3, the CBS affiliate in town, meteorologist Kathy Orr was worried about getting the game in, too. She predicted that the rain would get heavier as the night went on. But how heavy, for how long, and how much the crew at Citizens Bank Park could handle in keeping the field playable were all question marks.
"Our forecast models are never perfect," Orr said. "I always say it's guidance; it's not gospel."
The game started under a very light drizzle, but the weather deteriorated quickly after that. By the fourth inning the rain was steady, and by the fifth the rain and wind had picked up so much that the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins started to field a pop-up on the grass behind shortstop and veered some 25 feet into the infield to try to grab it. He missed.
When Maddon brought in reliever Grant Balfour in the bottom of the fifth, the grounds crew worked furiously to dry several spots on the infield. Phillies' starter Cole Hamels had to wait in the top of the sixth as the crew worked on the pitching mound. By then the rain was relentlessly strong and the winds were gusting at more than 25 mph.
A boundary line in the storm had stalled, soaking the area with rain. "I don't know if anybody expected that," Orr said. "It just parked right over Philadelphia."
Finally, after the Rays had tied the score at 2 in the top of the sixth, the umpires stopped play. And when it became evident that the rain would continue well into the night, Selig called for the first suspended game in World Series history.
The forecast for Wednesday night calls for temperatures around 40 degrees, Orr said, with 15 mph winds that will diminish into the night. It should be dry enough to play ball.
For all the local whining about the circumstances surrounding the suspension of Monday's game, manager Charlie Manuel and the Phillies are still sitting pretty. The Phils' ace pitcher, Cole Hamels, is due up first, which means Manuel will have to stick in a pinch-hitter for his prized lefty. But the Phillies are coming up first -- it's the bottom of the sixth, remember -- they have 12 outs (to the Rays' nine) and a rested and formidable bullpen. Brad Lidge, the closer, hasn't blown a save all year. And even if the Phillies lose, they'll still have a one-game lead in the best-of-seven Series.
"I think we know exactly where we're going and what we want to do," Manuel said on Tuesday. "We're going to be ready."
For the Rays, things are a little more urgent. A Tampa Bay loss will clinch the Series for the Phillies and put plans for a parade down Broad Street in motion. But a win by the Rays will send the Series back down to St. Petersburg, where the Rays had the best home record in baseball this season. MLB has not yet made a determination on whether a possible Game 6 would be played on Thursday or Friday.
Tampa Bay stopped Game 5 with the right-handed Balfour on the mound, and Maddon may well have him start version 5.5. If not, he has three lefty relievers, all rested and ready, to take on the Phillies' versatile and lefty-loaded lineup.
Neither manager will waste much time in this one. If Balfour starts, he may not last much beyond a batter. If one team so much as threatens, the opposing bullpen will be up and warming. The two teams figure to play for one run at the first opportunity, though the Rays have not done much of that this season. Defense will play a critical part. Each team will try to use its speed on the basepaths to force the issue.
As compelling as Wednesday night promises to be, the best thing about it is this: Even with all the pitching changes and all the commercials, even if it goes into a couple of extra innings, we ought to be done with this one by midnight. It's a win-win situation all around.
As long as it's not delayed again.