Well, the 2008 Major League Season has finally come to a close. Last week, the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in perhaps one of the most controversial and strange Fall Classics in recent memory, featuring artificial turf and catwalks, umpiring gaffes, a rain delay, and the first suspended game in World Series history.
The Phillies won the series four games to one on the strength of their pitching and their offense, which found ways to scrape together just enough runs (three of the Phillies’ four wins were by one run). For example, in Game 1, which Philadelphia won 3-2, the Phillies went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 men on base. This offensive lethargy continued throughout the series until Game 4, when the two teams combined for six home runs, including two by Ryan Howard and one by Phillies pitcher Joe Blanton.
While Joe Blanton helped out with his bat, the rest of the Phillies’ pitchers contributed with stellar outings. The pitching staff, led by World Series MVP Cole Hamels — who also won the NL Championship Series MVP — allowed the Rays an average of just over two-and-a-half runs per game, shutting down an offense which scored 43 runs in their last series against the Red Sox.
Although the players from both teams performed to the fullest extent of their abilities, the umpires certainly didn’t. The umpiring crew, led by crew chief Tim Welke, blew several important calls which almost certainly would have affected the outcomes of the games. For example, they missed a balk by Cole Hamels in Game 1, and in Game 4 Jimmy Rollins was called safe on a play where he was clearly tagged out at third base. In Game 5, home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg was inconsistent with his strike zone, calling balls on pitches that were well inside the strike zone, and vice versa.
Not to be outdone by the umpires, the elements also played their role in making the series interesting. The start of Game 3 was delayed due to rain and began at 10:06 p.m., the latest start in World Series history. That game was won by the Phillies the next morning, on a walkoff swinging bunt by Carlos Ruiz in a ninth inning that featured a five-man infield by Tampa Bay and a ball that never left the infield (except on a throwing error by the catcher).
Game 5 was suspended in the middle of the sixth inning, with the score tied at 2, after rain had turned the infield into a mud pit and the first-row seats into waterfront property. The game was resumed two days later, after League Commissioner Bud Selig declared a new rule that World Series games would not be shortened. As a result, the Phillies clinched the title on a 3 inning contest that opened with a relief pitcher facing a pinch hitter.
Although the Series featured entertaining baseball from both teams, it produced extremely low TV ratings. Partly because of the lack of a big-market team (such as Boston, New York, or Los Angeles) and partly due to the MLB’s insistence on a later start time, the Series only managed an 8.4 rating, down 17 percent from the previous record low two years ago and about a quarter of the rating of the Phillies’ last championship in 1980.
Nevertheless, the Phillies’ victory set off massive celebrations in the city. Fans tipped over Port-a-Potties outside of Citizens Bank Park after the victory, and an estimated 2 million fans attended the victory parade.
But for the rest of us (non-Phillies) fans out there, there’s always next year … (How many times have you heard that before?)