The Oddest Game 3, Which May be an Edge
From Thomas Boswell:
PHILADELPHIA -- In the last 34 World Series, I've seen some bizarre games, including a 15-14 nervous breakdown the last time the Phillies brought their particular brand of a.m. insanity to this stage 15 years ago. There have been back-to-back, sudden-death home runs in wee hours from Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius. There have been games so crazy that umps should have worn straight jackets. One even had a Derek Jeter home run sail out just after the scoreboard clock ticked into November. Three years ago, Geoff Blum of the White Sox hit a 14th-inning home run in a game so long, 5:41, that I swore it ended the day after tomorrow.
But Saturday night's 5-4 Phils victory over the Rays in Game 3 -- a deliciously perverse little monstrosity, which began after a 91-minute ran delay, then took three hours and 41 minutes before ending at 1:47 a.m. on an accidental game-winning dribbler up the third base line by obscure Carlos Ruiz -- yes, this thing may take the prize. Not best, by a long shot, nor most intricate. Just truly weird. Which may, in its way, give the Phillies' two-games-to-one lead more weight.
On the surface, you could boil Game 3 down fairly simply. The central Phils hero was Jamie Moyer, 45, who's waited all his life to set foot in the World Series. He held a 4-1 lead entering the seventh inning, thanks to three solo homers, first from Ruiz, then back-to-back jacks by Chase Utley and Ryan Howard to start the sixth off Matt Garza.
"I don't know what I thought the World Series would be like," said Moyer. "It exceeded every expectation or thought or dream that I ever had."
Moyer's crisp performance, allowing only two scratch hits through five innings, now gives the Phils a solid match-up against Garza in Tampa Bay if there is a Game 6. And Moyer, deemed a weak link after two bad October starts, suddenly looks fully fixed.
The Rays fought back with fluky but gritty rallies. In the seventh, they scored two runs charged to Moyer on a rally that started when leadoff man Carl Crawford beat out a drag bunt even though Moyer -- on slow motion replay -- actually made the most athletic horizontal dive-scoop-and-glove-flip all-in-one-motion play in the history of 45-year-old pitchers. Then, in the eighth, the Rays tied the game when B.J. Upton beat out a grounder to short, stole second base, stole third base on the next pitch and scored when Ruiz throw in the dirt to third bounced to the box seats.
Yes, quite the night for Ruiz. Home run: hero. Wild throw: back to goat. Accidental squib: game winner.
"When Carlos hit that ball," said Moyer, "I went from my seat to the ceiling."
"It's a funny game, ain't it," said Phils manager Charlie Manuel.
It is when you're on the right side of it.
If the Rays runs that tied this game, stealing a win from Moyer, were goofy, then they couldn't touch the zaniness of how the Phils actually won. In the ninth, leadoff man Eric Brunlett was hit by a pitch by J.P. Howell. Relief fireballer Grant Balfour then unleashed a wild pitch so violent that it ricocheted back to catcher Dioner Navarro in a blink with Brunlett barley halfway to second base.
If the ball had just stayed back by the screen, the Rays might have survived. But Navarro, with the ball suddenly back in his hands perhaps a second after it had shot past him, felt obligated to hurl the ball to second base. A perfect throw might have gotten Bruntlett. The wild one Navarro unleashed fell into centerfield, putting the sudden death run on third with no outs.
Two intentional walks later, Ruiz's dribbler ended it. If third baseman Evan Longoria had simply let the ball roll, it might have gone foul. But probably not.
"He gets a chopper," said Rays manager Joe Maddon, shrugging. "You try to make your best guess (on picking it up or not). We made ours."
The baseball gremlins owe Longoria a couple of good breaks. He might easily have been the star of this game and the Rays the winners, except for the flag-snapping left-field-to-right-field wind that blew what looked like a certain two-run homer back into the park in the sixth inning.
"I threw it. He hit it. I thought, 'Oh, boy,'" said Moyer. "I've seen a lot of them land in the flower pots (in leftfield.)" Actually, without wind, Longoria's towering shot was probably in the fifth row.
Pat Burrell settled against the 334-foot sign for the catch, leaving Moyer to reflect peacefully.
"I felt like I got away with one," he said.
So do the Phils -- one whole game. The World Series often has a game so twisted, so capricious, so eminently winnable for either team that both clubs come to see it as an omen. It's the "extra" victory, the not-entirely-deserved win that makes you believe in your destiny. The 105-win Cardinals of '04 could never get over their bad memories of an 11-9 loss in Boston in Game 1 and folded their tent.
The Rays will truly be tested after this one. First, robbed by the wind of a two-run homer, then beaten by a dribbler. And the eventual winning run reaches third because they got a bounce on a wild pitch that was too good for their own good.
"A squib roller," said Manuel. "Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good."
Because sometimes it hits the losing team twice as hard.
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