A rainy retrospective: The Phillies are World Champions!

The Pundit can’t really apologize for his long absence. After all, since the World Series began, he hadn’t just stopped writing: he also gave up shaving, doing laundry, and showing up for work on time. All in the name of superstition, of course. For those of you with short attention spans, this is a warning: the following post is probably going to run pretty long. Any Phillies fan will understand: there is just a lot to say. The ride was incredible, the celebration on Broad Street was epic, and man oh man was The Parade memorable. Without further ado, The Pundit recounts his World Series experience.

Truthfully, I don’t know where to start. Games one through four were all great experiences, especially game three, which I was able to watch with my Dad. There was just no way I could go through the entire series without watching one game with my pop, and what a finish that game was. Shoot, what a weekend: The Phillies took two from the Rays, Penn State beat Ohio State in Columbus to remain unbeaten, and the Eagles survived against the Falcons. Honestly, the greatest sports weekend of my life. After the Phillies crushed the Rays in Game Four, 10-2, I just felt something shift in the air: suddenly, we were in a town of winners. We were one game away from a World Championship, for God’s sake! What was going on?

But ask anyone what they remember from this series in ten years, and they’ll tell you it was the dripping Game Five. The Rumble in the Puddle. Selig’s Storm. The Rain Delay Game. Honestly, watching the game from an uncharacteristically rowdy South Philly Tap Room on Monday, you could just sense that we were going to roll the Rays, especially after Shane Victorino gave us two runs early. We had Cool Hand Cole on the mound – this win was a lock.

And then, something we all knew might happen, were praying wouldn’t happen, and tried to ignore as it started happening, happened. The sky opened, and a snarling, sinister, bitter and cold rain began to fall from the sky. The winds started to gust.

Oh, God, can’t we just have this one? Other towns have curses, but as puddles started to form, I couldn’t help but feel as though The Almighty Himself was having a laugh at our expense.

What had started as a baseball game was beginning to look more like a water polo match. Jimmy Rollins wasn’t able to catch a routine fly ball that was being whipped around by the wind. Hamels would later reveal that the rain made him unable to throw his curve ball or change-up. Wonderful. Our best pitcher has now lost his best pitch, arguably the nastiest change-up in baseball. Then, Jimmy wasn’t able to exchange the ball from his glove to his hand on a grounder up the middle, and B.J. Upton was aboard. And then he stole second, and Ruiz never had a chance. And then Carlos Pena, who hadn’t done squat all series, gets a base hit, and Burrell’s throw, which normally would have taken a healthy bounce on the way in, thudded softly on the wet ground, and B.J. Upton scored the game-tying run. And, “conveniently,” Bud Selig decided right after this inning ended that the game would be delayed, and ultimately postponed until the weather cleared.

HOGWASH!

Why did they ever come out for the sixth inning? The conditions were ridiculous. As soon as Jimmy Rollins ran halfway around the infield trying to catch an otherwise routine pop fly, the game should have stopped. Simple as that.

Now, I don’t think any baseball fan worth their salt would say that the game should have ended there. You don’t play five innings in the World Series to get a win – forget about that. I just think it was pretty convenient for Bud Selig to stop the game after it was tied, thereby eliminating any discussion about whether or not the Phillies had won the game, by rule, after five innings.

Still, I didn’t want to win because of the rain. And the rain had no intention of allowing for baseball anytime soon. For most of Tuesday, the rains just kept falling on my head. I spent much of the day driving, listening to talk radio hosts and callers moan about Bud Selig and the rain and how they were afraid that the Phillies and their fans were going to lose all momentum. I mean, it was just widespread depression – there was this sinking sense that the rain was going to wash our title all the way back to Tampa.

But I didn’t see it that way. I began to recount all of my painful memories of Philadelphia sporting lure. Suddenly, the rain took on a new meaning for me: it was one final reminder of where we were coming from. It was one last reminder of the fans we used to be, fans who were bitter from the failures of our team.

But not this year, I kept telling myself. We are going to do it this year, I insisted.

Think for a second about a sitcom, maybe the last season of one. Almost all sitcoms, before the show is ending, will have the retrospective episode, where the entire 30 minutes is comprised of old clips of the show. They do this, I imagine, for two reasons: the writers are giving themselves a creative break and they feel the need to recount everything that happened to really put the finish in perspective. The rain was our flashback episode — it took us down from our high for a moment and made us remember that old sinking feeling of failure we had become so accustomed to.

See, if your not a Philadelphia sports fan, that last paragraph might sound a bit ridiculous. But bear with me for a moment: imagine that you are, of all things, a meteorologist. You love, for whatever reason, the weather. Love to study it, love to be out in nature, immersed in it. It makes you excited, really gets the old gears working for you. Now, I want you to imagine what Tuesday’s weather was like. It was raining in bitterly freezing droves; it must have been, at best, in the low forties. The wind was vicious – I mean, it was a miserable, horrible day. Now, Mr. Hypothetical Meteorologist, go outside, stand in that weather for a few minutes, and try your best to enjoy the weather you are supposed to love. Really, maybe you love the weather, but I’ll bet you enjoy a sunny day more than you do a rainy one. So, put on your smile, pretend like its not bothering you, and see how long you can stay out in that rain. Think you can last 25 years? Because for 25 years, we have been showing up and tuning in to our favorite teams, hoping that all of the bitter and cold losses were going to turn into a sunny day.

Really, the rain turned game five into great theater. Act I: The Anticipation and Excitement of Game 5 on Monday. Act II: A Miserable Delay that Lasts all through a Miserable Tuesday.

Act III: The Three Innings on Wednesday that Philadelphia Will NEVER FORGET!

Throughout much of Wednesday, there was a nervous anticipation around the city. Many people were concerned that the fans in the stadium wouldn’t have the same energy they had on Monday. Yeah, that wasn’t a problem. The crowd was electric once more, and as soon as that first pitch was thrown, it felt as though the entire city was suddenly injected with copious amounts of Red Bull. Even watching at my house with some friends, you could literally feel the charge in the air. We…were…so…close.

And then Geoff Jenkins stepped in and blasted a double into right-center, and we were right back in business. After we took the lead in that inning, it just felt like it was meant to be. And then Rocco Baldelli brought us back to earth with his homer to left, and the tension returned. But still, I couldn’t help but feel as though this was our night.

And then Pat Burrell stepped to the plate.

I had been saying, pretty much for the entire Series, that Burrell was due. And oh baby, did he deliver, coming a few feet away from blasting a home run to center. And when Pedro Feliz stepped into the box and shot a single up the middle, well, we were feeling it again. Another hero had emerged. This was our year.

And then, we were only three outs away. The commercial break between the bottom of the 8th and the top of the 9th felt like it took, oh, about 28 years or so. Out trotted Brad Lidge, the man who had been perfect, to do what he had done flawlessly all season long: save one last win.

A lot was hanging on every pitch that Brad Lidge had thrown. 25 years in this city without a championship. 28 years without a championship for our the Phillies. I can’t imagine there was a person in a 25 mile radius actually sitting down. Even in my apartment, we were standing on couches, arm in arm, some of us barely able to watch the screen, hands clutched so tightly that circulation ceased, heads buried in shoulders, stomachs in knots and throats. We had waited so long, and the journey had been hard, but here we were.

One out. Knees shaking, smiles widening. Two outs, on a hair-raising liner to Jayson Werth. Hands clutching even more tightly, nervous laughter trickling about the room. Forget about the man on second; you just got the sense that Lidge was going to strike Hinske out. And then, with two strikes, Lidge uncorked one of his sliders that makes your legs turn to Jell-O just watching, and I swear it went toward the plate in slow motion. And Hinske offered his bat toward it weakly, and … and …

HE STRUCK HIM OUT! HE STRUCK HIM OUT! OHMIGOD, WE JUST WON THE WORLD SERIES! WE WON THE WORLD SERIES! WE WON THE WORLD SERIES!

Alright, so the Phillies won the World Series. MY GOD, THE PHILLIES WON THE WORLD SERIES! I don’t even remember seeing the celebration on the field, because when Lidge’s pitch hit Ruiz’s glove, I was hugging my friends and jumping and yelling and just going absolutely nuts. We turned Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom” on (corny, but whatever, we were ecstatic( and just started dancing and singing at the top of our lungs. But we knew, on this night, what we had to do.

“We’re going to Broad Street!” I yelled, and off we went.

We hit Broad Street and joined a throng of people heading south, a mass exodus to our baseball mecca, Citizens Bank Park. All along the route, people were dancing and slapping five and chanting with no reservation.

“WE’RE WORLD CHAMP-IONS!”

Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.

“LET’S GO PHIL-LIES!”

Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!

“NAH NAH NAH-NAH. NAH NAH NAH-NAH. HEY, HEY, HEY – GOODBYE.”

My crew and I even made up our own one on the way. “DAH, DAH, DAH-DAH-DAH – WE WON THE WOOORLD SER-IES!”

We never made it anywhere near the park. At Shunk Street, we were blocked off by a massive wall of humanity all partying in the middle of the street. In about two minutes, we were blocked off to the north of us as well. Taking turns sitting on shoulders, we were taken aback by what we saw – all of Broad Street was completely swamped with ecstatic Phillies’ fans. As a friend so aptly noted on a photo she posted online, the streets were filled with thousands and thousands of best friends.

I can’t speak for the rest of the city, but the South Philly party remained civil and joyous. Even when two guys looked as though they were about to get into a fight, about ten people stepped in between them, urging them to remember that we were on the same team, that we were all friends. And you know what? They looked at one another, nodded in agreement, and shook hands. The love was everywhere.

It was Philly’s Woodstock, and you just didn’t want to leave the party.

Eventually we did, and on the journey back, all you could hear was honking horns and people celebrating. We ran down the streets, slapping hands and exchanging yells of excitement. And occasionally, in between the celebrating and sips of champagne and beer, every once in a while you just stopped, and it hit you:

WE WON THE WORLD SERIES! WE WON THE WORLD SERIES!

I will never forget the Wednesday night that the city of Philadelphia partied at the top of its lungs, on top of its streets and roofs and even occasionally cars and telephone poles. We went back to the apartment and watched Brad Lidge’s last pitch about, oh, I’ll say 25 times. We shared a toast on the roof. We played “Philadelphia Freedom” a few more times. We didn’t want to sleep: we just wanted to breathe it all in.

You see, this was so much more than a baseball game. This was 25 years of frustration. This was for Mitch Williams and Lenny Dykstra and John Kruk and the rest of the ’93 team. This was for Charlie Manuel’s mom and Shane Victorion’s grandmother and John Vukovich and John Marzano.This was for Whitey. This was for Wheels and his beautiful gyrations after they had won, and for Mr. Golden Pipes himself, Harry Kalas. This was for stories of resurrection: Brad Lidge and his perfection. Brett Myers and his new found success after returning from the minors. Pat Burrell and his tumultuous, up-and-down seasons with the fans. This was for emerging stars who captivated the city: Cole Hamels, Cool Hand Cole, Mr.World Series MVP, our ace. Shane Victorino. Jayson Werth. This was for our role players that became our October heroes: Eric Bruntlett, Matt Stairs, Geoff Jenkins, Carlos Ruiz. This was for our rock solid bullpen, our last line of defense: J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson, Scott Eyre, Chad Durbin. This was for our homegrown, ageless wonder of a pitcher, Jamie Moyer. This was for our team-oriented stars: Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley. This was for our skipper, the guy who kept telling us the team would hit, the man who never got rattled, the genius who it seemed always knew exactly what string to pull. Honestly, when Charlie stepped to the mike and yelled at the top of his lungs “THIS IS FOR YOU, PHILADELPHIA!” I couldn’t help but get a bit choked up. He understood.

He understood that this was also for the generations of fans who had shared this game with their friends and families, coworkers and neighbors. The people who came to the stadium, year after year, supporting their team. The people who hung on every pitch and questioned every decision and thought of the Phillies as a part of their family. He understood that there was a reason the Phillies were 7-0 at home in the postseason: Philadelphia’s fans were unbelievable, creating an atmosphere that energized our team. We were a part of this.

Surely, for many in this city, Thursday must have been a rough day of work. It sure was for me. But there was one last celebration to be had: our long overdue parade. And it didn’t disappoint. The streets were full of people — even the cops were in good spirits. I couldn’t help but think that, watching Pat Burrell lead the procession on a truck by himself may have been his way of saying goodbye. We’ll miss you, buddy. When Charlie cruised by, we chanted: CHAR-LIE! CHAR-LIE! When Cole cruised by, we chanted: M-V-P! M-V-P! The party cruised all the way down to the park. I’m not sure how many people were out there, but it must of been in the millions.

I watched the entirety of the proceedings in the stadium on TV, and it was pretty special. But honestly, the moment I’ll always remember was when Chase Utley took the stand. What is Chase going to say, the man of few words? I asked myself. I never saw the answer to that question coming.

“World champions. WORLD F’ING CHAMPIONS!”

Whoa. My friend Meg, who was in the stadium for the procession, said that, though the fans in attendance went crazy for just about everything that happened, everyone went absolutely bonkers when Utley said that. They didn’t have a chance to bleep it out on live television, and we were cheering and laughing hysterically at Utley’s bravado. He will probably always be a hero in this town, but that moment will be the icing on his legendary cake.

And now, I don’t know what to do with myself. The last week or so was crazy, and this ride was incredible. I feel like there is something missing in my life now, a dark void that will just have to be filled by the Eagles and the Sixers and the Flyers and Penn State. See, I was so accustomed to the season ending on a bitter note. When the ending of the season is this sweet, you just want it to keep on going and going and going. Bill Simmons once wrote that, as enjoyable as seeing the Red Sox win a championship was, it was never as incredible as he thought it will be.

Well, I beg to differ. I guess Boston just doesn’t throw a party like Philly does. Because I will never, ever, ever forget Wednesday night, and the celebration that followed. I will never, ever forget this team, with players I grew to love, who never gave up, and were never out of the game, with a manager who just couldn’t miss. I will never forget my first parade, and all of the happy Philadelphians littering the streets. Maybe, Mr. Simmons, this good feeling will fade over time. That’s life. But my God, when it is good in this city, it is soooo darn good.

DAH DAH DAH-DAH-DAH – WE WON THE WOOOORLD SER-IES!

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