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A long time coming: Phillies win World Series

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

By BEN WALKER

AP Baseball Writer

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's over," Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "It's over, man."

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.

It was among the most bizarre 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.

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 the seventh-inning stretch came quickly.

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.

While former NL MVPs Ryan Howard and Rollins drive the Phillies, it was others who won it on this chilly night and sent the young Rays home.

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, who relieved Cole Hamels when the game resumed, 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.

Once known as a city of champions, Philadelphia sports fell on hard times after Julius Erving and Moses Malone led the Sixers to the 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.

How much did Philly fans want a champion to call its own?

Well, the sports hero they point to with the most pride wasn't even a real person -- Rocky Balboa.

Yo, Adrian ... the Phillies did it!

"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.

This game was suspended Monday night a batter after Carlos Pena's tying, two-out single in the Rays' sixth. By then, the field had become a quagmire, with the foul lines washed out, home plate turned into a puddle and every ball an adventure.

Despite a shaky forecast, Game 5 began in the rain. Shane Victorino hit a two-run single off Scott Kazmir in the Phillies first, and the Rays scored in the fourth on Pena's double and Longoria's single.

The poor conditions made even routine plays difficult. Rollins blinked back raindrops and dropped a wind-blown popup, and umpires didn't invoke the infield-fly rule on another pop because there was no guarantee it would be caught.

Notes:

Burrell went 1-for-14 in the five games. ... Howell put down the first sacrifice bunt of his career.



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