Commentary

Once play resumes, 3½ innings remain to decide Game 5

Originally Published: October 28, 2008
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Here's a question to ponder as the Phillies and Rays await the resumption of Game 5 of the World Series on Wednesday night (or Thursday or beyond, depending on the weather):

If the rain drags on so long that it's time for Cole Hamels' scheduled "throw" session, could Philadelphia's ace return to pitch three more innings and go the full nine?

"I am in the game, aren't I?'' Hamels said.

Don't bet on that happening. But in light of the meteorological chaos that has suddenly enveloped this city, no scenario is too outlandish to contemplate.

A few things were definitively established as the Phillies and Rays dragged themselves out of Citizens Bank Park with a 2-2 tie in the middle of the sixth inning Monday night. They were only peripherally related to baseball:

• Judging from his immediate comments, commissioner Bud Selig is not a huge believer in the infallibility of meteorologists. The word "dubious'' would probably apply.

• While the outfield at Philadelphia's home park drains extremely well, infield dirt invariably turns into mud when you apply enough water to it over a sustained period. That Diamond Dry substance is wonderful for repairing wet patches. When applied by the tractor-load, it eventually loses its effectiveness.

• If anyone has a more thankless job than that of Phillies head groundskeeper Mike Boekholder, it's Rays traveling secretary Jeff Ziegler. He had to scramble to find hotel rooms after the team's traveling party checked out en masse in anticipation of a flight home to Florida.

As far as the weather, the only thing we know for sure at the moment is that there won't be a baseball game at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night.

"While obviously we want to finish Game 5 as soon as possible, the forecast for today does not allow for us to continue the game this evening,'' Selig said in a statement. "We are closely monitoring tomorrow's forecast and will continue to monitor the weather on an hourly basis. We will advise fans as soon as we are able to make any final decisions with respect to tomorrow's schedule."

[+] EnlargeCitizens Bank Park
AP Photo/David J. PhillipGame 5 is scheduled to resume on Wednesday, weather permitting.
According to the Weather Channel's Web site, the temperature in Philadelphia on Tuesday night will be somewhere between 37 and 44 degrees, with a 50 percent chance of rain and winds occasionally gusting over 40 miles per hour. It was snowing in some Philadelphia suburbs Tuesday morning.

In other words, think Wrigley Field right around the income tax filing date.

Considering that Monday's pregame forecasts called for one-tenth of an inch of rain -- not even close to reality -- Selig and Major League Baseball want a clear and pretty much foolproof window before asking 45,000-plus fans to venture back to Citizens Bank Park for the potentially decisive three innings.

Selig said fans deserve "a lot'' of notice before Game 5 resumes. In his estimation, that means "many hours beforehand.''

"The thing that's been so difficult is that the weather just keeps changing,'' Selig said. "Obviously we're very sensitive to that, and we'll bend over backwards to be sensitive to the Philly fans, who have been tremendous.''

The baseball considerations aren't so complicated. The Phillies and Rays will resume play in the bottom of the sixth inning. If the Phillies win the next 3½ innings, this city will erupt in celebration. If the Rays win, they'll return home to St. Petersburg with a mother lode of momentum.

For starters, the middle of the order is back in sync after Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria snapped a combined 0-for-31 World Series funk with three hits Monday night. Pena doubled off the right field wall and scored on Longoria's single in the fourth inning, and singled to the opposite field to drive in B.J. Upton with the tying run in the sixth.

"I know they feel better about themselves right now, and confidence is really a wondrous thing in regards to us humans,'' said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon.

Hamels, the best pitcher in this series and the entire postseason, is out of the picture for the moment. If the Rays can outplay the Phillies over the next 3½ innings, they'll be riding a huge high at Tropicana Field with James Shields and Matt Garza lined up to pitch Games 6 and 7.

Beyond that, the Phillies and Rays are in the same boat (or maybe we should make that "ark"). Neither Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel nor Maddon has gone to his bench yet, so everybody is available. And the bullpens will both be fresh. Tampa Bay's Grant Balfour needed only nine pitches to record three outs, so he could easily return to pitch the bottom of the sixth when the game resumes.

Hamels is due up first for Philadelphia, with Jimmy Rollins and Jayson Werth to follow. If Manuel calls on one of his lefty pinch hitters -- say, Geoff Jenkins or Greg Dobbs -- don't be surprised if Maddon summons his most reliable lefty, J.P. Howell. Left-handed hitters batted .188 against Howell this year, and Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are just around the corner in the Philadelphia order.

World Series: Phillies vs. Rays

Complete coverage of the Phillies-Rays matchup.
Series page
Scouting: Phillies Insider | Rays Insider
David Price, Tampa's rookie X factor, is also ready to go for as long as the Rays might need him.

"Whatever Joe wants, if it's three innings, four innings, it doesn't matter,'' Price said. "He knows I want the ball. So we'll see what happens tomorrow."

For Tampa Bay, Dioner Navarro, Rocco Baldelli and Jason Bartlett are due up in the top of the seventh. That's the type of situation that typically prompts Manuel to signal for right-hander Chad Durbin. Or if he's feeling a greater sense of urgency, No. 1 setup man Ryan Madson might get the call.

Monday's suspension came so quickly and on such a confusing note, some questions appeared to be misplaced. For example, some reporters wondered if Maddon might go with Shields, his scheduled Game 6 starter, when play resumes. But Maddon quickly ruled out that possibility. It's already late in Game 5, and what's left to play is strictly in the hands of the bullpens.

How odd will the situation be once play resumes? The seventh-inning stretch will take place in the second inning, and fans might just be settling into their seats for the first pitch when they look out and see double-barreled action in the bullpens. That usually only happens at Texas Rangers games.

Will the teams be laying down sacrifice bunts and playing "small ball'' right out of the chute? Maddon declined to go that far, but he's already spoken with his players about the bizarre circumstances surrounding Game 5 and the sense of urgency that's required.

"It's kind of like overtime in a sense, or 'sudden victory' as Curt Gowdy would say,'' Maddon said on a conference call Tuesday afternoon. "We're almost at that point.''

The Rays, frozen out of their Philadelphia accommodations, relocated to the DuPont Hotel in Wilmington, Del., and spent Tuesday decompressing. The team arranged for a bus to take players to Citizens Bank Park for an optional workout with accompanying trainer's room time, but Maddon expected most of the Rays to use the free day to rest.

The Phillies, meanwhile, had reason to feel angry and disappointed by the strange turn of events Monday. In light of how well Hamels has been pitching, the rain might have robbed them of a champagne celebration. But Manuel doesn't expect the unfulfilling ending to have a carryover effect. He plans to go locker to locker, look in his players' eyes and make sure they're ready to go before Game 5.

"We've got 3½ innings of baseball,'' Manuel said. "We get to bat four times. They get to bat three. We get 12 outs, and they get nine. And we're definitely coming with the mindset that we're going to win that game.''

The Phillies do have one wild card up their sleeve: Hamels threw only 75 pitches, so he would probably be available on three days' rest if the inclement weather were to push a seventh and deciding game back to Friday. For what it's worth, Hamels has yet to pitch on short rest in 90 regular-season and postseason starts.

"If the Phillies want me to pitch, I'd tell them I'm more than happy to step in,'' Hamels said.

That's a question for another day. At the moment, the Phillies and Rays are taking it one step, one drop and one Doppler forecast at a time.

ESPN.com senior writer Jayson Stark and staff writer Amy K. Nelson contributed to this report.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer