PHILADELPHIA — They were a resilient bunch, these 2008 Tampa Bay Rays.
They laughed at their history, which said failure, and smiled at their doubters, who said they would wilt under the heat of the pennant race.
They were fazed by neither.
Injuries? Losing streaks? Game 7 against the Red Sox? They brushed them aside, conquering everything in their path.
Until they reached South Philly.
The Rays couldn’t win here.
And so, the most wonderful, incredible, enjoyable baseball season ever experienced in Tampa Bay came to end on a cold night at Citizens Bank Park.
It was the Phillies 4-3 in Game 5 of the World Series, which started Monday but was suspended until Wednesday because of rain.
“I believe this,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said, “our guys are not going to be satisfied with not going to October after this.”
The Rays were the surprise of the baseball season, darlings for those who love the underdog.
They escaped 10 straight losing seasons, nine of which ended in last place finishes, to win the American League East title and then the American League pennant, after beating the Chicago White Sox and the Boston Red Sox in the playoffs. They needed seven games to beat the Red Sox in the American League Championship series.
“It made you feel like a kid again,” Carl Crawford said.
But the magic that carried this team throughout the season disappeared in the World Series.
Evan Longoria and Carlos Peña didn’t get their first hits until Game 5.
The bullpen, one of the best all season, was leaky against the Phillies.
Still, the Rays arrived at stadium Wednesday filled with confidence.
They viewed the suspended game — a 2-2 tie through 5 1/2 innings — and their impromptu trip to Wilmington, Del., for a hotel that could accommodate their traveling party of 170 as more karma for a team that thought fate had a locker in the clubhouse.
It didn't take long for the Rays to find themselves back on the ropes Wednesday night, however. The Phillies took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth when leadoff hitter Geoff Jenkins, pinch-hitting for series MVP Cole Hamels, doubled to right-center field for his first hit of the postseason. He scored when Akinori Iwamura couldn’t make an over-the-shoulder catch on Jayson Werth’s fly ball to shallow center.
Tampa Bay's Rocco Baldelli tied the score at 3-3 in the seventh when he drilled a pitch from Ryan Madson into the left field seats.
That took a little steam out of the Philly fans, who returned for one more night at Citizens Bank, waving their white towels, hoping to erase 28 years of frustration since the Phillies' last World Series title.
But the fans got back into the game when Pat Burrell got his first hit of the series, a double off the top of the center field wall to start the seventh inning. Pinch-hitter Eric Bruntlett scored on a single by Pedro Feliz, and the Phillies had the run they needed for the second championship in their 126-year history.
Closer Brad Lidge, who did not blow a save all seasons, converted the biggest of his career when he ignored a one-out single by Dioner Navarro in the ninth to retire the final two Rays.
The last pitch of the 2008 season was an 84-mph slider past Eric Hinske for strike three.
Fireworks exploded over the ballpark as the Phillies mobbed each other on the field and the fans, if you can believe it, yelled louder than they had during any of these three games.
The Rays retreated to their clubhouse, where J.P. Howell, the losing pitcher, sat in front of his locker and wept.
“I don’t think we have anything to be ashamed off,” Longoria said. “I don’t think it really sunk in yet. I feel we’re going home to play more baseball.”
The Rays had the kind of season no one wanted to see end.
But it did.
In the World Series.
“I think,” James Shields said, “the whole world believes in us now.”