Tuesday, October 28, 2008
It all started so well. Game #5 of the World Series began last night with Phils' ace Cole Hamels mowing the Tampa Bay Rays down in order and in easy fashion in the top of the first. In the bottom of the inning, the Phillies loaded the bases thanks to some rough umpiring and the early wildness of Rays all-star lefty Scott Kazmir. And then Phillies' centerfielder Shane Victorino, the 'Flyin' Hawaiian', one of the many heroes of this glorious post-season ride, lashed a base hit to left field to score two runs and give the Phillies an early 2-0 lead. The fans at Citizen's Bank Park erupted in a frenzy of 'Rally Towel' waving, and thus began what was hoped to be, what everyone believed would be, the night that would end 'The Curse'. For 25 years the vast majority of the people in this sports-crazed region have waited for a champion. In that quarter-century of teams falling short, the inability of Philly's major pro sports teams to bring home even one title among them has taken on the stuff of legend. It is to the point now where everyone refers to '100 seasons' without a championship, referring to the fact that all among the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and 76ers have each had those 25 years without a title, and so we have been forced to sit through a hundred titleless pro seasons among the teams. But something has been building with these Phillies that felt different, and the events of the weekend only served to solidify that feeling. On Saturday night, the Phils had overcome a daylong rain that delayed the game, winning in dramatic fashion in the wee hours of Sunday morning to take a 2-1 Series lead. On Sunday, the sun had broken through and on a chilly night the Phils bats awoke in a 10-2 drubbing that setup this potential clincher. The possibility of rain lurked all day on Monday, but there was a very real possibility of getting the game in under chilly and drizzly conditions, and with a true nor'easter coming through on Tuesday, the powers that be at MLB decided to try to get it done. Back in the game, Hamels continued to breeze as the rain began through the early innings. The Phils took that 2-0 lead into the 4th as the rains intensified and the field slowly began to deteriorate. When the Rays' wunderkind rookie 3rd baseman Evan Longoria finally broke out of a Series-long slump with an rbi single in the 4th, Tampa Bay had cut it to 2-1, but Hamels still seemed in control. The weather was now becoming the big problem. The skies just simply began to open up with a deluge, and without some break coming quickly the nightmare scenario of the World Series ending under the literal and figurative cloud of a shortened game was becoming a serious possibility. When Hamels got out of the top of the 5th thanks to an incredible doubleplay by Chase Utley, the game was official, and the storm was only getting more intense. At home in the warm, dry comfort of our family room, my wife and I flipped to a local cable 24-hour weather service. The radar was not telling a pretty tale. The dark green of the heavy rainstorm showed no relief in sight. It was very apparent at that point that this game could not possibly continue much longer no matter what MLB officials wanted, no matter what the players wanted, no matter what the 46,000 championship-starved fans wanted. The field at Citizen's Bank Park is state of the art as far as handling any kind of normal rain load, but this was nothing of the sort. The field was taking a real pounding with puddles forming as the ultra-modern drainage system and a determined grounds crew were simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume and persistence of the water that Mother Nature was pouring down. Was there a chance that the umps would be forced to stop the game, that the tarp would be brought out and the infield covered, and a lengthy rain delay ensue? Problem with that scenario was that the weather forecasts now contained no good news. You could wait two, four, six hours. You could wait all night, this thing was not going to let up. Was it possible that the Phillies could become the first team to ever win a World Series title in a game called by rain? I don't care how long we have waited, there was not a single fan in that ballpark, in this entire area, who wanted to win under those conditions. Well, the point became moot. The umps decided to try to squeeze out one more inning, and in the top of the 6th Rays slugger Carlos Pena came through with a game-tying single before Hamels could close out the inning. With the score knotted at 2-2, there was simply no other choice than to suspend the game. And so here we sit in Philadelphia as the Tuesday nor'easter rages all around us. It is scheduled to last all day, meaning that the field is going to have no chance to dry out at all even if it stops by the scheduled 8pm game time, which is itself no guarantee. The weather around here was gorgeous just days ago. At the end of this week, it is slated to be beautiful again, giving the kiddies a nice Halloween evening on which to trick-or-treat. But right now when we need it most, the late fall weather is embarrassingly, ridiculously unplayable. How this will all end now is a great unknown. What seemed like an inevitable championship just one day ago now seems much riskier. Whenever they start again, the game will enter the bottom of the 6th tied at 2-2, a shortened risk/opportunity of 3 innings. Will the Phils give the ball to Brett Myers? Will they put it in the hands of their lights-out bullpen? Have the Rays hitters awoken just in time to steal a shortened game and send the Series back to Tampa-St. Pete? All great unknowns. But I can tell you this. Right now it doesn't feel good. It feels like something happened last night that was not in the players power to control that may have turned the momentum towards the Rays. Thanks to this incredible deluge from the heavens, our championship dream has been drowned. It is up to these so-far resilient Phillies players to find a way to overcome this latest obstacle, and bring home that elusive title.