Phinally! Party time in Philadelphia
The Phillies delivered Philly's first major championship in a quarter century
Charlie Manuel silenced his critics by making all the right moves in Game 5
Joe Maddon's unconventional methods mostly backfired in the late innings
PHILADELPHIA -- It was one big exhale. That's what that was Wednesday night. From the unbridled crowd of thousands that immediately closed down Broad Street, into the stands at glistening Citizens Bank Park, down on the field, back in the Phillies' clubhouse, to the banks of the Schuylkill and far beyond came the final, tightly held breath of a city that has been sucking it in for far too long.
And now Philadelphia really gets to let loose. Let the party roar.
Wednesday, the franchise that has lost more games than any in major sports history won the World Series, 28 long years and almost too much pain to bear after its only other title in the Fall Classic. The Phillies beat the upstart Tampa Bay Rays in the rain-delayed conclusion to Game 5, 4-3 (Recap | Box Score), sending southeastern Pennsylvania into a kind of mass, spontaneous self-combustion.
Fireworks went off over and into the crowd on the famed Broad Street. Traffic ground to a halt in many areas of the city. Car horns blared. Strangers embraced. No longer do this city's sports fans have to live with the memories of the Phillies' 1964 collapse, of Chico Ruiz's steal of home, of Smarty Jones' failure in the Belmont Stakes, of the disappointments of the Sixers and the Flyers and the Eagles. Now they can live with the stories of Cole Hamels' pitching, and Geoff Jenkins' double, of perfect Brad Lidge and of the sneaky-sly manager, Charlie Manuel. Now, they can live with the memories of a rain-wracked but, ultimately, life-altering World Series win.
"This used to be a football city, but I think we just took over," said pitcher Brett Myers. "I feel like we've made history in this city. This is bigger than anyone imagined."
Wednesday was about exorcism as much as it was celebration. Lidge, the stand-up closer with a painful postseason past, put an emphatic end to his season of redemption with a nearly perfect ninth inning to seal the win. Manuel quieted his sometimes vocal critics by making all the right moves. Jenkins showed that he can still be a valuable player with a leadoff double.
All of it came on the backdrop of maybe the weirdest postseason game in history, a game that was started Monday, stopped after 6½ innings because of torrential rains and not re-started until Wednesday, 46 hours later, in the bone-chilling cold of Citizens Bank Park. The resumption of Game 5, with the score standing at 2-2, began with Jenkins, a pinch hitter, going against Tampa Bay reliever Grant Balfour. It actually began for Jenkins about 10 minutes before that, when Manuel gave him the heads-up that he would be the first batter to take his cuts.
Jenkins worked the hard-throwing Balfour to a full count before he ripped a fastball to right-center field, coasting into second pumping his fist repeatedly and pounding his thigh. Jenkins had missed much of September with a hip flexor strain. He had only nine at-bats in September and only three so far in the postseason.
But Manuel gave him the nod -- "I was going to let Jenkins hit all the way," the manager said -- and Jenkins responded with the biggest hit of an 11-year career. "I can't even put words to it," he said on the field shortly after the game ended. "Where is the sham-pag-knee?"
Jenkins' leadoff hit set the tone and was especially poignant to his friend and right-field platoon-mate Jayson Werth, who took over for the injured Jenkins in September and who had a couple of big plays of his own on Wednesday night. "He's such a gracious guy," said Werth, croaking his way through an interview in the clubhouse after losing his voice standing around in the rain Monday night. "I couldn't have picked a better teammate to have that happen with."
Werth knocked in Jenkins a couple of batters later with a bloop hit to center to give the Phillies the immediate lead. The Rays played catch-up the rest of the short night.
Tampa Bay tied it with a home run from Rocco Baldelli in the top of the seventh. But outfielder Pat Burrell, a soon-to-be free-agent possibly making his last plate appearance as a member of the Phillies, led off the bottom of the seventh with a double to left-center, his only hit of this Series, and two batters later Pedro Feliz knocked in pinch runner Eric Bruntlett with the winning run.
After a scoreless eighth, it was up to Lidge to do his thing. Lidge was 41-for-41 in save opportunities during the regular season, 6-for-6 this postseason and was working on -- when you count a 3-for-3 mark at the end of the '07 season -- his 51st consecutive save opportunity without blowing one.
"There's really nothing to say. He's perfect. I don't think you can say anything else," said starter Jamie Moyer, who celebrated his first World Series win in his 22 years in the majors.
As much success as he's had this year, Lidge is still known to many as the reliever who, while pitching for Houston, served up a huge postseason home run to St. Louis' Albert Pujols. His performance this year, and in these playoffs, should clear his postseason record for good.
Lidge gave up a broken-bat single to Dioner Navarro, and pinch hitter Ben Zobrist lined a shot to right field to a perfectly positioned Werth. But Lidge struck out pinch-hitter Eric Hinske to end the game, dropped to his knees in front of the mound and was mobbed by his teammates.
"I don't give a crap about Houston right now. This is the best moment of my life," Lidge said in the middle of the diamond, the crowd cheering in the moments following the last out. "I wouldn't change anything in my career, 'cause it all got me right here, right now."
As much praise as the Phillies will get for this Series win -- and there should be plenty -- the Rays will have to brace for an offseason of finger-pointing and second-guessing. The Rays won 97 games in the regular season and dumped the defending champion Red Sox in the American League Championship Series, but they hit only .212 in the five games of this Series. Third baseman Evan Longoria, the de facto AL Rookie of the Year, had only one hit in 20 at-bats (.050). First baseman Carlos Pena had only two in 17 at-bats (.118).
The brunt of the criticism, though, will be leveled at manager Joe Maddon, whose unconventional methods backfired on him here. His decision to let lefty J.P. Howell pitch to the righty-swinging Burrell in the seventh -- just one of several questionable calls -- may follow him for years.
After the game, as former manager Dallas Green celebrated with Manuel, as the "sham-pag-knee" sprayed and the cigars were lighted, the Series MVP, Hamels, tried to put Philly's win in perspective. Hamels is a California kid, just 24 years old. He wasn't born when Green guided the Phillies to a win over the Royals in the 1980 World Series.
But Hamels has been around the fans in this city long enough to realize what this means. "This is the best thing to ever happen to this city. Ever," he said.
Over on the other side of the room, Manuel accepted handshakes from everyone who walked his way, his cap tilted back, his warmup jacket still on. All those who wondered whether an unpolished, folksy 64-year-old from West Virginia could win a World Series in a sometimes unforgiving city with a hard-scrabble past need wonder no more.
"Ehhh ... I think it speaks for itself. I don't have to say nothing," he said. "Wherever I go, whatever I do from here on out ... to win one, especially to win one as a manager, you'll always be known as a winner."
The people of Philadelphia, finally, can relate.