Thursday, October 30, 2008

Philadelphia Phillies Beat Weather, Politics, and the Rays to Win World Series!

Congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies for winning their first World Series since 1980. In between, the Phillies went to the World Series to be crushed by the Baltimore Orioles in a series where many of their veterans were pretty much playing for their last hoorah. The Phillies had few homegrown talents other than Mike Schmidt, but guys like Steve Carlton, Pete Rose, and Joe Morgan were nearing the end, as was Jim Palmer whose victory as relief pitcher gave him the distinction of being the only pitcher to post wins in three different decades. Philadelphia returned to the World Series in 1993 with one of the wildest cast of characters ever to be assembled: John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra, and Darren Daulton. They might have looked more like the company softball team, but were a very fun team to watch with a young Curt Schilling as their ace. All that pleasure was shot down in the Skydome by a game winning walk-off homerun creating the memorable image of Joe Carter leaping for joy as he rounded the bases for the home team.

This year’s Phillies like last year’s team didn’t look like a for certain playoff team as in both seasons, the New York Mets were supposed to win the National League East both years. Lead by perhaps the most dominant homerun slugger in baseball, Ryan Howard, clutch starting pitching from Cole Hamel with even old-timer, Jaime Moyer pitching to a 16-7 record at 46 years old, and an absolute fail-safe stopper, Brad Lidge who pitched to a stellar 1.95 ERA converting 41 out of 41 save opportunities. His mark combined with excellent setup work from the bullpen gave the Phillies virtually automatic victories when leading in the late innings. Their success was also bolstered by the New York Mets collapse though not quite as dramatic in 2008 as 2007. While they got blown out in the first round of the playoffs in 2007, they clobbered the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers en route to facing one of the greatest Cinderella teams in the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays.

Despite the Rays amazing transformation from being the division doormat since they entered the league in 1998, the prospect of watching post season baseball in Tropicana Field which looks like a dreary old warehouse even on a small conventional television was not inviting. Nevertheless, the Rays obliterated the White Sox in the first round of the playoffs and immediately took charge of the Red Sox before the Beaners fought to even up the series forcing a dramatic 7th game that belonged to the Florida boys.

Thus two seemingly unlikely teams to be title contenders in April fought for the trophy in October. The guys from the City of Brotherly Love and Cheesesteaks went right to work winning game one in the Florida warehouse, lost the second game, setting the stage for three games in their ballpark which in just four seasons has established itself as perhaps the most homerun crazy ballpark in all the offspring of Orioles Park at Camden Yards. While the games were pretty tame games on offense in Florida, the third game in Philadelphia tipped off what could be in store. Game four turned into a homerun hitting contest that the Phillies lead by Ryan Howard hitting back-to-back homeruns dominated setting the stage for the highly controversial 4th game.

Game 4 of the 2008 World Series began in cold, damp conditions with the threat of heavy rain and wind setting in later. Hopes were there would be enough time to get the game in before Mother Nature took over. Such would not be the case as by the fourth inning, the rainfall was heavy while the temperature dropped and wind increased. The Phils stepped out to a two run lead in their first at bat while Tampa scored a run in top of the 4th just as the wild weather was kicking into high gear. Quickly, the infield dirt and pitchers’ mound became messy and water started to puddle up. Pitchers had trouble keeping their cleats clean and maintain sure footing on the mound. Why the game was being continued seemed crazier with each at bat; however, if play were suspended, once the home team got its at bat in the top of the 4th with a lead, it would be an official game and Philadelphia would have won the game and the whole series at that point.

The farce played out before the baseball audience tuned in around the world. The game continued with an uneasy air of impending disaster as some horrible miscue or player injury seemed inevitable. Yet play continued into the top of the 6th when it seemed like the Commissioner’s dream came true when shortstop Sonny Rollins could not execute what would have been a routine play allowing Tampa to score. The instant Tampa posted the last out, the tarps were hauled out on the field and the game was suspended as baseball fans wondered how the “commish” would respond. The game would be resumed in Philadelphia when weather condition were acceptable even if it took until “Thanksgiving.” Tuesday’s weather was equally dreadful delaying play yet another day when game six, if needed was scheduled to be played in St. Petersburg.

Despite the cold and a brisk breeze, the Phillies picked up play in the bottom of the sixth promptly scoring a run en route to a 4-3. This game was delayed 30 minutes by a much more ominous and threatening storm, 30 minutes of Barack Obama, buying network time to celebrate his extreme vanity and further flaunt his enormous ego as “The One” is important enough to bump the World Series. One can only imagine how much cussing and fuming there was at many sports bars if that charade was broadcast for the bar patrons to see.

Thankfully, despite the delays, the Phillies took care of business on their home field winning four out of five games making the return trip to Florida.

Let the hot stove season begin!

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