Tampa Bay Rays
Phillies Finish It For Crown 46 Hours Later
PHILADELPHIA - More than 20 minutes after the Rays had filed silently into the visitors' clubhouse from their dugout, J.P. Howell sat facing his locker with his shirt off, his head in his hands. The sounds of the celebration just getting cranked up on the field echoed easily through the tunnel and into the near-silent locker room, a reminder of what had been won - and lost - that Howell and the Rays didn't need at the moment. With a thrilling three-inning sprint to the finish of a game delayed 46 hours by rain, the Phillies finally prevailed 4-3. The World Series title was theirs, four games to one, and the Rays were left to taste meaningful defeat for the first time all season. "We really thought we were going to back to Tampa," said Carl Crawford, the longest-tenured Ray. "It's kind of tough on us right now; we didn't think we would lose three games straight up here and we really thought we'd make it a better series."There was no debating that the better team over the course of the best-of-seven set came out on top, but the Rays made things interesting Wednesday night. Nonetheless, a shootout between two of the best bullpens in the game came down in favor of the Phillies, as dominant closer Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske with the tying run on second base to end the game. It took a little more than an hour for the Phillies to wrap things up Wednesday, but the combatants crammed a game's, or maybe a week's, worth of did-you-see-that moments into three-plus innings. "It was like a full sprint," Howell said after collecting himself. "That was great. That was one of the most fun experiences of my life." The Phillies' runs were set up by huge hits from a pair of aging sluggers who hadn't tasted much success in October, Geoff Jenkins and Pat Burrell, and the Rays had only one answer in them when they needed two. Hitless in three postseason at-bats before leading off Wednesday as a pinch-hitter for Series MVP Cole Hamels, Jenkins took a 96 mph Grant Balfour fastball to the wall in right-center. When Jenkins cruised home to score on Jayson Werth's bloop double over a drawn-in Rays infield that slipped through Akinori Iwamura's hands, it appeared the game might be over right there. But Rocco Baldelli provided a quick response for the Rays, taking Phillies "starter" Ryan Madson deep to left-center for his first hit of the World Series to tie the game 3-3. The Rays then saw a potential go-ahead run evaporate as Jason Bartlett was cut down at the plate while trying to score from second on an infield single by Iwamura. Rays manager Joe Maddon opted to stay with Howell for the bottom of the seventh, but Burrell - 0-for-13 in the World Series - just missed a homer to the deepest part of the park, settling for a double as he admired his drive out of the batter's box. Pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett took over for Burrell and moved up to third when Shane Victorino grounded to second after failing to get down a bunt. The Rays had to bring their infield in once again, and Pedro Feliz was able to guide a Chad Bradford pitch back through the middle, making it 4-3 and sending the home crowd into hysterics once again. "We just executed tonight whereas before we weren't," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. "The last three and a half innings it was a pretty good ballgame." Pretty good indeed. The intensity rarely wavered as the fans who braved wind chills in the 20s had no reason to stray from their seats with all the action compressed into a third of a normal game. But this was no normal game. "It's reality TV at it's best right there, man," Maddon said. "To heck with 'Lost' and all those other things, 'American Idol.' Go start a game in the bottom of the sixth." And now it's back to reality for the Rays, who never expected it to end so abruptly even though they knew the possibility was staring them in the face. "It's a frustrating thing to go home for the next week or so and sit at home and not have something to do," Cliff Floyd said. "Everybody had plans of playing tomorrow. I have to think of something to do. I don't know what the heck I'm going to do tomorrow."
The Daystarter: New strategies getting to Performing Arts Center on time; candlelight vigil in Seminole Heights; Bucs let one slip away; cold front brings lows in the 50s by Wednesday