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BASEBALL : BILL SHAIKIN / ON BASEBALL

Phillies' long wait comes to quick end

They finally conclude Game 5 in a crisp 78 minutes to bring Philadelphia its first major title in 25 years.

October 30, 2008|BILL SHAIKIN | Shaikin is a Times staff writer.

PHILADELPHIA — This ought to go down as the greatest hour and 18 minutes in baseball history. This wacky, wild and weird World Series, a mess on and off the field, ought to be remembered for its rollicking finish.

They ought to do this every year. They ought to condense the deciding game of the World Series to 78 minutes, so packed with edge-of-your-seat tension that the Philadelphia Phillies might need the entire winter to get their heart rate back to normal.

That was little more than an hour, from a tie score to a trophy.

"That was the longest game of my life," outfielder Jayson Werth said.

On Monday, the Phillies left the ballpark to wait out the rain. On Wednesday, they left the ballpark as World Series champions, after a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 5.

Never mind the unprecedented World Series suspension that cost the Phillies the use of their best pitcher, the rain delay that ultimately lasted 2,760 minutes.

"You make lemons out of lemonade," infielder Greg Dobbs said.

There was no recipe, no game plan to follow.

On Tuesday, Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel told J.C. Romero he would pitch soon after the game resumed. This would be the 570th relief appearance of his career, but there would be none of the usual time to relax and watch the starting pitcher for a few innings.

"I was so nervous," Romero said. "I had to go for a walk. And it was 20-something degrees outside."

Cole Hamels, the World Series most valuable player, might have been the coolest guy in the clubhouse.

"This is the easiest game I've ever had to deal with," Hamels said. "I didn't have to do anything, and I was in the starting lineup."

They announced his name and everything, part of the oddity of a pregame ceremony in the middle of the game. No national anthem. No ceremonial first pitch. No exchange of lineup cards.

And certainly not this announcement: "And the Rays take the field!"

So there we were, in the bottom of the sixth inning, in a 2-2 tie, the ballpark rocking from the first pitch that wasn't really a first pitch.

"You have to thank the fans. They brought the excitement," Hamels said. "Usually, you have a couple of innings before we roll into it. With the fans going nuts in batting practice, and in freezing temperatures, we were game-ready and gung-ho from the first pitch."

Leading off, a pinch-hitter. Geoff Jenkins batted for Hamels and doubled, the first postseason hit of his 12-year career. Werth singled him home, and the ballpark roared. Five minutes in, and nine outs to go.

"It was something, that intensity from start to finish," Dobbs said.

In the top of the seventh, Rocco Baldelli homered, and a hush fell over the ballpark. In the bottom of the inning, Pat Burrell doubled, Eric Bruntlett ran for him, and Pedro Feliz singled him home, with what would be the winning run.

The ballpark roared again. Forty minutes in, and six outs to go.

"That was intense," Bruntlett said. "It was like sudden death."

Romero retired the Rays in the eighth. One hour in, three outs to go, and 45,000 fans on their feet.

On came Brad Lidge, the October goat in Houston three years ago, the perfectionist this year, with 47 saves in 47 tries. "My heart was going 100 mph," Lidge said.

With one out, Dioner Navarro singled, and a city murmured under its breath. Fernando Perez, the pinch-runner, stole second, and a city fell silent. Ben Zobrist smashed a line drive toward right field, and a city held its breath.

"It was moving all over the place, up and down, and then it darted to the left at the last second. Unbelievable," Werth said. "I was lucky to get a glove on it."

He caught it, and a city exhaled, and cranked up the volume. One out to go.

Lidge struck out Eric Hinske, fell to his knees and thrust his arms to the heavens.

"This is the greatest moment of my life," said Lidge, dismissing what happened in Houston.

The Phillies played through rain, waded through rain, waited through rain. "That's the way it was meant to be," said Romero, the winning pitcher. "We'll take it. We're World Series champions."

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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