Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Baseball gods shone through the pouring rain

I'm rooting for the Phillies to win this World Series. I remember, as a boy, watching Philly games with my grandfather, in the small family room/bedroom, located just behind the living-room-converted-into-a-neighborhood confectionary, in their suburban Philadelphia, South Jersey home. During games, when someone came in the store, a bell would ring, and he or I would go out to wait on the customers.

Most of the time, we would sell a few pieces of penny candy to neighborhood kids. You could get a lot of candy for ten or fifteen cents. Grandma, grandpa and their store were beloved institutions in their neighborhood for well over over fifty years. It was a treat for me to work in the store on the trips we would make to visit from California every few years. With sales complete, grandpa and I would resume watching the game.

I like the National League and can't stand the DH rule. Tampa Bay is a good, young team. They will have more chances, and they're not through in this Series yet. If Philly does win, Tampa Bay will be back, and with an exciting, young team, maybe they'll draw more than a few thousand fans per regular season game.

The Phillies on the other hand are one of baseball's most storied franchises. With only one championship in their 125 year history, their futility is as bad as the Cubs. Up in the series 3 games to 1, the Phillies are one win away from their second world championship. But this has been a strange World Series, made stranger by the events Monday night. With rain threatening to end the game, it would have been bad for baseball and marred a Phillies championship. A small miracle was needed to right the situation.

The officiating in this series has been awful. In Game One, there was the "no balk" call. In Game Four there was the the "Strike Three, You Walk" call. And then in the first inning of Game Five, the home plate umpire was squeezing the strike zone on Rays' pitcher, leading to a walk and two first inning runs, giving Philadelphia a lead. Then the rain came, and the umpires made their worst decision of the Series yet - they let the teams play.

Radar showed Philly socked in for hours of rain, but the game continued, with field conditions deteriorating. By the fourth inning, things had really gotten bad, with large puddles covering the infield, and the groundscrew having to repair the mound between every half inning. The umpires should have called the players off the field, raining out the game, but instead, they allowed the game to continue. The Rays failed to score in their half of the fifth inning, making this an "official game". If the umpires were to call the game now, the Phillies would have won the game by rain.

At this point in the contest, my loyalty changed. I was no longer thinking of the fair weather fans in Florida, but rather the players on the field and all they had worked for to get to this point in their careers. Now I am rooting for the Rays to tie the game. A rain shortened game is no way for a World Series to be decided. The game continued.

Philadelphia batted in the bottom of the fifth, and did not score. Now the rain is really coming down, and the Rays are batting in the top of the 6th. Down in the series three games to one, if they were to lose this game, there would be "no tomorrow". On a grounder the Philly shorstop could not handle, a speedy Rays player makes first base. Then he gingerly steals second, careful not to slip and fall in the mud on the way. Now with two out, and a runner on second, playing in a driving rain, the Rays have a chance to tie the game.

The Rays batter lifts a line drive over the shortstop's outstretched glove into shallow left field. The runner is rounding third, trying to score. There would be a play at the plate. The throw is slightly up the first base line, the runner slides around the tag, and scores the tying run. The third out is recorded, and the umpires instruct the grounds crew to cover the infield with the tarp.

Under normal rules, in a rain shortened game, the score reverts to the previous inning, and the Phillies would have been declared the winner. However, in this case, in a new rule just recently adopted, the game was suspended. The game will be resumed in the bottom of the 6th inning, tied at 2-2.

Some locals aren't happy about the way things turned out, and I agree with them that Bud Selig is a lousy commissioner. His handling of the steroid scandal in baseball has been atrocius. Nonetheless, ending the World Series because of rain is not how a championship should be decided. With the resumption of play, possibly tonight, the game will be decided as it should be - on the field.

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