PHILADELPHIA – Philadelphia took a 2-1 lead in the World Series as catcher Carlos Ruiz got the winning hit in the bottom of the ninth inning on Saturday, giving the Phillies a 5-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
In a match delayed by rain until 10:06 p.m. local time, Ruiz got the winning hit at 1:47 a.m. to spark frenzied celebrations by fans witnessing the city's first World Series game since 1993.
Tampa Bay had rallied to level the game at 4-4, but it all unraveled for the visitors in the bottom of the ninth.
Relief pitcher J.P. Howell hit Eric Bruntlett with a pitch to open the inning, putting a runner on first base. Australian Grant Balfour was summoned from the Rays' bullpen, but produced a wild pitch that beat catcher Dioner Navarro, rebounded off the hoardings back to the catcher, whose attempt to throw out Bruntlett at second base went wide and out into center field. Bruntlett duly picked himself up from his slide and ran on to third.
The Rays then deliberately walked the next two batters to load the bases with no outs. Having brought on an extra infielder, loading the bases was a tactic to deny runners a choice of whether to advance on a hit, raising the chances of a ground out and possibly a double play.
The tactic almost worked as Ruiz got a mistimed, chopped hit down the third-base line. Onrushing Rays third baseman Evan Longoria fielded cleanly with his bare hand, but was forced to underarm the ball over Bruntlett charging toward home plate. It was too high for catcher Navarro, and the winning run was scored.
"It might have took a little squib roller down the third-base line, but at the same time it's better to be lucky sometimes than to be good," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
Rays outfielder Ben Zobrist, who was brought in to make the five-man infield, was rueful after Ruiz's chopper.
"You couldn't place a ball better than that. Lucky swing, perfect bounce," Zobrist said.
Ruiz's single was only the second hit in 33 chances with runners in scoring position that the Phillies had produced over the three games of the series.
Game 4 is Sunday in Philadelphia, and the weather forecast is fine for the matchup between the Phillies' starting pitcher Joe Blanton and Andy Sonnanstine of the Rays.
A 91-minute rain delay resulted in the latest start time in World Series history, but few had left as the match went into the wee hours.
The Phillies built a 4-1 lead on the back of a strong pitching performance by 45-year-old Jamie Moyer — in his first World Series game after a 23-year MLB career — plus home runs by Ruiz, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.
Those home runs offset Tampa Bay's early 1-0 advantage after Jimmy Rollins got his first hit of the series and came home on Gabe Gross' sacrifice fly.
Moyer, already a pro before Rays stars Longoria and B.J. Upton were born, demonstrated how he's earned 246 major league victories. He struck out both All-Stars with slow changeup pitches, and made the entire lineup look foolish with tentative swings.
Moyer became the second-oldest player in World Series history — Jack Quinn was 47 when he pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1930.
Gross slapped in a run to make 4-2, prompting Moyer's departure, and the Rays were invigorated.
Jason Bartlett also hit a groundball to drive in a run, closing the deficit to 4-3.
Then Upton beat out an infield single to open the eighth inning, stole second and third on consecutive pitches, and dashed home on a wild throw by Ruiz to make it 4-4.
He became the first American League player to steal three bases in a World Series game.