Commentary

Rays players thought they were down to their last out

Originally Published: October 27, 2008
By Howard Bryant | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Evan Longoria knew the rules. So did David Price.

And Carl Crawford.

And Cliff Floyd.

And Fernando Perez.

And during this tsunami in Philadelphia, with the wind whipping, the cold biting their necks and down 2-1 after five innings, the collective belief in the Tampa Bay dugout was that if the Rays did not score in the top of the sixth inning, they would have lost the World Series.

BJ Upton
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarOn a muddy track, B.J. Upton scored from second base on Carlos Pena's two-out single in the sixth inning to tie it at 2.
"We thought it was over," Crawford said. "We thought we had to score. We thought we better do something or that was going to be it."

They believed that without immediate executive action, this is how their baseball lives would expire, in a driving rain, with a hungry, hostile band of Philadelphians set for a coronation.

Cole Hamels, the Phillies' best pitcher, was speeding toward a World Series MVP trophy and immortality in a sports town where true heroes never, ever die. Hamels struck out Aki Iwamura to open the sixth. Ryan Howard scooped a Crawford bouncer and stepped on first for the second out. The rain pelted.

They knew the rules: After five innings, a baseball game is official. If a game is suspended during an incomplete inning, the score reverts to the count at the top of that inning. By rule, given the field conditions, the Tampa Bay Rays were one out from losing the World Series.

So B.J. Upton, whose incandescence during these playoffs is reaching supernova intensity, reaches on an infield single. On the muddiest track of his life, he steals second. Carlos Pena, who through four games fit clearly in the category of great Series slumps (See: Winfield, Dave and Stargell, Willie) before awakening in his previous at-bat, singles Upton home to tie the game.

The half-inning ended with the game tied 2-2. Upton and Pena had saved the season.

Through the corridors of Citizens Bank Park, the fans thought they knew the rules, too, that if Upton hadn't scored and the inning ended with the Phillies leading 2-1, they would be the first team in baseball history to win a championship by rain-shortened decision. The title was theirs.

"I've seen rain delays, suspended games -- that happens in the regular season -- but the World Series and the clinching game should always be decided by nine innings and down to the last out," said Rays reliever Trever Miller. "Not by Mother Nature or whatever else could be thrown at us. That's what the fans pay to see and that's what we've worked our entire season to get to. For us not to get that hit right there … that would be awful. That would be the most miserable offseason I would have ever had, trying to swallow that one down. That stuff doesn't digest. Hopefully they recognize this and in the winter meetings they establish some sort of protocol and this doesn't happen again."

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Thirty minutes later, umpires Tim Tschida and Tim Welke, Phillies general manager Pat Gillick and Rays president Matt Silverman flanked commissioner Bud Selig at a news conference, and Selig attempted to explain the first-ever suspended World Series game.

In that explanation, Selig revealed he had made an executive decision on the fly: In a news flash to the rule book Selig held under his left arm before speaking, he said he would not have allowed a World Series game to be decided in less than nine official innings.

"Well, I guess putting everything else aside, it's my judgment. I have to use my judgment. It's not a way to end the World Series," Selig said. "I have enough authority here so that I'm not only on solid ground, I'm on very solid ground … and I would not have allowed the World Series to end this way."

Selig said he and the club executives knew they would not have allowed a game to be ended before completion. The Rays' manager, Joe Maddon, said he was aware, as well.

But nobody told the players.

"I knew the rules, but I didn't think they would actually end a World Series game after six innings," Longoria said. "I mean, that just wouldn't be right by any measure."

Maybe after 10 months of motivational speeches, rewired thinking and unorthodox orthodoxies, Joe Maddon held off on using his one last psychological smart bomb: He knew the World Series would not end with an embarrassing rain-shortened finale.

But he did not tell his team.

Maybe he chose not to tell his players because he needed them to feel the kind of pressure that could produce their very best, to leave the game tied and his team, which looked beaten, rejuvenated.

Or maybe Game 5 of the World Series was another example of baseball playing chicken with its product.

If the United States is convinced it must end its dependence on foreign oil, baseball must end its dependence on television money. Baseball executives knew the game would be washed by rain, but television demanded the game be played.

The sport gave itself to Fox and the fans paid the price.

Tschida said afterward that the players acted in exemplary fashion, like true professionals. Yet baseball did not treat them like true professionals because no one told them this World Series game would be played the full nine innings.

Selig swerved around the rules. Monday night's game should create a rule on the books, so there is no ambiguity: World Series games must be decided in a minimum of nine innings.

"Who dodged a bullet? You know what, if it worked out that way, now … I really did not believe that would be possible, to win a World Series game like that," Pena said. "I didn't think that would go down, even though the rules said so. All of us were talking in the clubhouse and we were like, 'There's no way, no way that would happen.'"

But there is another issue at work that the game must address: Technology has made it possible for the sport to rarely, if ever, be put in this position again. Over the past decade, baseball has erected 12 new stadiums. Of the 10 where weather plays a major factor, only two -- Safeco Field in Seattle and Miller Park in Milwaukee -- have retractable roofs.

Baseball has a central fund. It is launching a television network next year and for the past decade has raked in millions with MLB advanced media, a massive revenue stream from the dot-com era. It has been a financial giant.

And Selig should put down another necessary -- though costly -- edict: Every new ballpark constructed must contain a retractable roof.

According to league estimates, a retractable roof adds roughly $100 million to $125 million to the cost of any project, no insignificant sum. But baseball put the fans of Philadelphia in a terribly uncomfortable position. Rain delays and cancellations should no longer exist.

Instead, the sport has gone in a reckless direction. Both new parks in New York are open-air -- and, most egregious of all, Minnesota's new park is also open-air. Just imagine a Twins World Series in an open-air stadium.

The World Series will resume with a revived Rays team and a Philadelphia team -- thanks to Pena, Upton and Longoria -- no closer to the title they crave, but no further away either. A bizarre evening will resume … at a later date.

"We have life," Crawford said. "And look at the bright side: Cole Hamels is out of the game."

Amy K. Nelson contributed to this report.

Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He is the author of "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball" and of "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston." He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn3.com.