Commentary

Rain now the story of this World Series

Updated: October 29, 2008, 8:59 AM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies came to the ballpark Monday thinking they were about to hand the World Series over to Mr. October, Cole Hamels.

Little did they know they were about to hand it over to Bud Selig's favorite Doppler 10,000.

Whatever happens now, this World Series is never going to be the same. You understand that, right?

It's no longer going to be known for Carlos Ruiz's 2 a.m. walk-off squibber, or Joe Blanton's Babe Ruth impression, or Cliff Floyd's mad dash home on the most improbable squeeze bunt of modern times.

Nope.

This one is now going down in a whole different chapter of World Series lore.

Weather lore.

We can figure out exactly where it fits into the grand history of baseball meteorology after it's all over. But in the meantime, all we know is this:

One of these days, one of these weeks, one of these months, whenever the commissioner decides to lift the first suspended game in the history of postseason baseball, the Phillies, the Rays and the rest of humanity are going to find Game 5 of this World Series, in theory, exactly where they left it.

Halfway through the sixth. Tie game, 2-2. The Phillies still lead the Series 3-1. So they remain, again in theory, precisely where they were Sunday night -- one win away from the second World Series championship in franchise history.

Yeah, it's all exactly the same, all right. Except nothing is the same.

A mere one day ago, the Phillies had this Series set up with their ultimate dream scenario -- one win away, their most dominating starter lined up to pitch it.

Now, one soggy, half-baked, suspended-animation debacle later, they've essentially wasted a Cole Hamels start.

And they're almost certainly looking at having to deal with the terrifying prospect of facing David Price when play resumes.

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And the two Rays hitters who were 0-for-the-Series -- Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria -- have finally remembered how to hit.

So you know what every Phillies fan in America is thinking now:

Uh-oh.

That would be the polite terminology for it, anyway.

In Philadelphia, nothing is ever easy. Nothing. So this mess just fits right in.

"Of course. We've gotta make the World Series memorable," Hamels laughed after what was supposed to be the greatest night of his life had turned into Bud Selig's remake of "Singin' in the Rain." "And this definitely will do so."

Hey, ya think?

Hamels tried his best to put a happy face on this insanity. But all you need to know about how his teammates felt about it was the sound of deafening silence all around him.

The manager, Charlie Manuel, wouldn't talk to the media afterward. And neither would many of the most prominent members of his team -- Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth, just to name a few.

You can draw your own conclusions as to why that was. But here are the conclusions we would draw if we were you:

• They were furious that this game wasn't stopped until Hamels had surrendered the tying run in the top of the sixth, even though the field had begun looking like a veritable Sea World attraction at least a half-hour earlier.

• They weren't happy that it was started in the first place, since glop had already begun falling out of the sky during batting practice and the worsening weather forecast was the No. 1 topic of pregame conversation -- just ahead of how many layers of clothing they were all going to have to wear to avoid frostbite.

• And, most of all, they were incensed by the whole situation -- having their best-laid World Series plans steamrolled by the needless rush to play a game in conditions more suitable for the Iditarod than the most important game of their careers.

[+] EnlargeCole Hamels
Rich Kane/US PresswireThe stage was set up perfectly for the Phillies, with Cole Hamels on the mound for a potential clincher -- until the rains came.
"Hey, it sucks. Let's be honest," said closer Brad Lidge, one of the few Phillies who did address the media afterward. "But what choice do you have? We just have to come back here tomorrow and try to finish the job."

So how WERE these decisions made? Why did they start? Why did they keep on playing? Why did they stop play when they did?

Selig brought two umpires, Rays president Matt Silverman and Phillies GM Pat Gillick to the post-suspension news conference afterward to try to explain it all -- not to mention to try to make it as clear as possible that you couldn't hang this whole nightmare on him.

He talked about all the upbeat weather forecasts he'd been handed as late as 45 minutes before game time. He talked about the pregame meeting he'd convened with the umpires, the grounds crew, the managers, the GMs -- in short, everybody but Al Roker -- in which they all decided, "Let's play."

And it was only in the fourth inning, Selig said, that he found himself "getting very nervous." Which caused him to make two different visits to see the groundskeeper, in the fourth and fifth innings, to inquire about the state of the field.

Selig claimed he was told that it wasn't until the sixth inning that the field turned into a total river delta. And that's why the game was halted when it was.

But when players started describing the conditions afterward, suffice it to say they weren't quite as, uh, sunny about those elements as the commish.

Asked when HE would have stopped this game, Rays reliever Trever Miller replied: "I would have said no later than the fourth inning. As soon as Jimmy Rollins had trouble with that fly ball [Rocco Baldelli's uncaught popup leading off the top of the fifth], right then and there that would have told everyone that conditions were not conducive to playing good baseball.

"That's what you want in the World Series," Miller said. "You want good baseball being played by the best players of the season. When Mother Nature is robbing you of that, it's time to put the tarp on and come back another day."

"Let me tell you," said his teammate, Carlos Pena. "That was bad. That was probably the worst conditions I've ever played under in my life. It was really, really cold. Windy. And it was raining nonstop. I mean, when do you ever see a puddle at home plate?"

Hamels said it was so hard to grip the ball that he never tried to throw a single curveball. And he could never get the right grip on his best pitch, his David Copperfield disappearing changeup.

So he pumped about twice as many fastballs as he would on any other night. And this, remember, was supposed to be the most important night he'd ever spent on a pitcher's mound.

And then, when the fateful top of the sixth inning rolled around, the rain could well have changed the way the most pivotal inning of this game unfolded.

With two outs, nobody on and an ocean pouring out of the heavens, B.J. Upton thunked a ground ball up the middle. It looked like a hit off the bat. But Rollins got there, got a glove on it and then watched it wiggle out of his hands like a fish that had just slipped off his hook.

Within moments, Upton had stolen second -- sliding right through a puddle the size of Delaware -- and scored on Pena's two-out, two-strike single to left. And we had ourselves a tie game.

[+] EnlargeUmpire
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesEventually, with the field looking more like a Sea World attraction than a baseball diamond, the umpires sent everyone home.
Before we get to the ramifications of that tie, though, let's go back to that fateful rally. Asked if he thought Rollins would have thrown Upton out at first base had this been regular old weather -- as opposed to monsoon season -- Hamels had no doubt.

"On a normal day? Oh yeah," he said. "Definitely. I think he might have caught Longoria's ball, too [i.e., the ground-ball single that drove in the Rays' first run, in the fourth]. But you know, that's the way luck [works] in baseball."

Yeah, and that luck worked for the commissioner, too. Because this game was now tied, he was able to walk into that news conference with his handy-dandy rule book and read off Rule 4.12.6 -- which allows for tie games that were already official to be suspended.

"I'll tell you what," the Phillies' Matt Stairs said. "To have a tie game, sixth inning, that makes Bud Selig and the boys pretty happy, because they didn't have to make a big decision, to let that game go through a 10-, 12-, 13-hour delay. … So the big man's happy. He didn't have to make that decision."

Ah, but what Matt Stairs didn't know -- what, apparently, none of these players on either team knew -- was that Selig had already made his big decision.

If the rules weren't going to permit him to suspend this game, he was going to have to go to Plan B. He was just going to have to impose martial law -- or at least Selig's Law -- and, essentially, suspend it anyway. By simply declaring the world's longest rain delay. Whether that took 24 hours, 48 hours or all the way to Thanksgiving.

Selig vowed these teams were not going to finish this game "until we have decent weather conditions."

Gee, it's a shame he didn't have that same feeling before he allowed this game to start in the first place. But whatever -- on this point, he made the right call. Players on both teams made it clear they would have been embarrassed to decide the World Series on a game that got rained out in the sixth inning.

"I truly think that would have been the worst World Series win in the face of baseball," Hamels said. "And I would not pride myself on being a world champion on a called game."

"The clinching game," said Miller, "should always be decided by nine innings and down to the last out. 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."

Hey, good plan. Nothing like a little protocol, so that both teams at least would have gone into this situation knowing the rules they were playing under.

But now here's a better idea, an even better rule of thumb:

We're pretty sure this won't be the last attack Mother Nature springs on a postseason baseball game. In fact, with the World Series scheduled to stretch into November next year, the chances of a meteorological disaster way worse than this are almost a lock.

So how about if baseball makes a pact -- right here, right now. The heck with the Fox prime-time schedule. The heck with the old both-sides-have-to-play-in-it mindset. How about this mindset:

If the weather forecast is scary enough before ANY postseason game to give the commissioner, in his own words, "significant trepidation" about playing, let's not start it. OK?

It's that simple. What happened to the Phillies on Monday should never happen to any team in this situation. And Bud Selig knows it.

And here's what he also knows: The Phillies had better go on to win this World Series. Because if they don't, the always-magnanimous residents of Philadelphia aren't going to blame Charlie Manuel, the next three losing pitchers or good old Mother Nature.

They're going to blame him, Bud Selig.

So if the commish has always wanted to, say, tour Independence Hall, there may be no better time than the last Tuesday in October.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com