Home MLB The Phillies win the World Series

The Phillies win the World Series

by Matt Smith

The 46,000 fans who turned up at Citizens Bank Park last night only got to witness three innings of baseball, but they will have been the best three innings imaginable for Philly fans.  The home team prevailed 2-1 on the night to win the historic ‘three day’ game 4-3 and to secure just the second World Series in the franchise’s history. 

As expected, even though it was a shortened format, there was no shortage of memorable moments.  Chase Utley’s inspired defensive play in the seventh inning will be replayed constantly on TV sets in Philadelphia throughout the off-season.  The Rays’ third base coach Tom Foley certainly won’t enjoy seeing it again, as Utley completely fooled him with his fake throw to first that resulted in Jason Bartlett being hung out to dry at home plate.   However the play should be credited as a moment of genius by the second baseman, rather than a blunder by Foley.

Charlie Manuel was also made to look like a genius by Geoff Jenkins, who led off the night with a double that eventually saw him being blooped home by Jayson Werth.  Rocco Baldelli, a guy who deserved a great moment as much as anyone, gave the Rays hope with his solo shot to tie it at 3-3, but Pedro Feliz’s run-scoring single knocked the stuffing out of them even before Brad Lidge walked to the mound.  He completed a perfect 48 from 48 save season to spark scenes of wild jubilation in Philadelphia and a moment of contemplation in Houston.  The Astros gave up on Lidge and yet he’s the one who has ended up with a World Series ring.

The three inning dash was a unique way to bring the season to a close, but it’s something that I hope we will not see repeated for a long time.  In many respects you can say it was the same for both sides: they each entered the night knowing what they needed to do.  Still, psychologically it was a fantastic position for the Phillies to be in.  All they had to do was win a three-inning contest and they would be World Champions.  The Rays on the other hand had just three meagre innings to save their season.  Add in the Phillies’ home field advantage and Tampa Bay were stuck in a desperate situation.

But that’s not to say the Rays were simply a victim of circumstances.  Philadelphia thoroughly deserved to be crowned as the champions, both through their season as a whole and particularly their performance throughout the Fall Classic.  Had they taken more of their numerous chances in the first two games, they might have pushed the Rays aside with a 4-0 sweep.  Their pitching was outstanding, especially the NLCS and World Series MVP Cole Hamels, and their offense did enough to get them over the line.

Unfortunately the Rays really didn’t do themselves justice during the World Series, putting on a display reminiscent of the Tigers in 2006.  Detroit’s lacklustre performance two years ago was widely attributed to the long break they had between sweeping the A’s in the ALCS and beginning their series against the Cardinals, who had been embroiled in a seven-game battle royale with the Mets.  In this case, it was the Rays who went the distance in the Championship Series round so following that line of thinking they should have been at the top of their game.  Virtually every year there is a debate on whether it’s better to have a rest or to keep on playing prior to the World Series, but this shows that there is no rhyme or reason to it.  Regardless of the preparations, the team that plays the best in the World Series games will take home the trophy and this year that was the Phillies.

By any measure, the Rays have had a phenomenally successful season.  Their talented young roster will have learned a great deal from the experience and there’s every reason to expect them to be back for another shot next year.  The same can be said for the Phillies.  Pat Burrell is their only notable player out of contract and he has indicated that he would be keen to stay. 

The Phillies’ main off-season question will be whether they can come to an agreement with Ryan Howard, even just on his 2009 salary (a multi-year deal looks very unlikely).  The slugger received a record $10m via arbitration last year and even if 2008 had been an average year for Howard, he probably would have banked a slight raise on that figure.  As it was, he helped the team to a World Series win while leading the Majors in homers and RBIs and he may possibly add a second NL MVP award into the mix as well.  So, I’m guessing he will be looking for something around $14m/$15m and the Phillies will be anxious to avoid losing another arbitration case to him due to the disruption that can cause (both with the player himself and in terms of the payroll budget).   With a World Series ring presentation on the horizon, they’ll have a hard time arguing against his case.  Phillies fans will tell you that’s a very small price to pay for success.

From a neutral’s point of view, it was a shame that we once again couldn’t get to at least a game six in the World Series.  The last five series have included three 4-0 sweeps and two 4-1 victories, but I’m not convinced that there is any great fundamental reason for this.  Every team in MLB is capable of sweeping another (even the Nationals can win seven in a row – it’s true!) and even two completely equal teams might not produce a close series during a first-to-four format. Flip a coin seven times and it may come up heads on four occasions and tails on three.  Try it again and tails may win 6-1*.  While a seven game contest would be preferable, the fact that we could just as easily get a four-game sweep is yet another part of the unpredictable and exciting nature of MLB.

And this year’s World Series undoubtedly produced some exciting moments.  The U.S. TV ratings might not reflect this, but for some of us seeing two ‘unfashionable’ teams competing in the Fall Classic is a real treat rather than a real turn-off.  It was a great end to another great season and the 2009 edition can’t come quickly enough.

* = These two coin flip examples were the product of a genuine scientific experiment (although I wasn’t wearing a long white lab coat and safety goggles, which might invalidate the results for the purists out there).

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