National League: Philadelphia Phillies (92-70) - Fifth World Series (Won in 1980)
American League: Tampa Bay Rays (97-65) - First World Series
The Tampa Bay Rays were a great story in 2008. After 10 seasons of utter incompetence, they dropped the "Devil" from their nickname and suddenly became good, surprisingly winning the AL East over the Yankees and defending champion Red Sox and advancing to the World Series.
The Phillies were also a good story in 2008. After seven straight seasons of winning at least 80 games but perpetually being not quite good enough, they finally took the final step to advance to the World Series, winning the National League pennant for only the fifth time in their 125-year history.
The two feel-good stories were overshadowed, though, by the cold and wet weather that greeted them in Philadelphia. The rain was cold and relentless, and it became the dominant storyline of the World Series.
Rain wasn't in the forecast for the first two games in St. Petersburg's domed Tropicana Field as the teams played a pair of games that appeared to be closer than they really were. Philadelphia led all of Game 1 after Chase Utley's 2-run, first-inning home run; Tampa Bay cut a 3-0 deficit to 3-2 in the sixth, but didn't get a hit after that. It was Tampa Bay's turn for a wire-to-wire win in Game 2; they only got seven hits, all singles, but managed to get a 4-0 lead and hold on for a 4-2 win.
Then the series went north to Philadelphia, and things took a turn. Players took the field in Game 3 wearing long sleeves and modified hats with ear flaps. They were playing more against the weather than against each other. The Phillies took a 4-1 lead in the 6th inning of Game 3, only to see Tampa Bay tie it in the 8th. Philadelphia's Eric Bruntlett was hit by a pitch to lead off the ninth, then moved to third on a wild pitch and throwing error. After two intentional walks, Philadelphia catcher Carlos Ruiz hit the first infield single walkoff hit in World Series history to give the Phillies a 2-1 series lead.
After the Phillies battered Tampa Bay for a 10-2 win in Game 4, Commissioner Bud Selig announced before Game 5 that despite official rules stating otherwise, he would not allow a World Series championship to be decided in a rain-shortened game. His words became prophetic when, with Game 5 tied at 2 in the middle of the sixth inning, the skies opened up, forcing the teams to scamper to their dugouts. And then they waited. And waited. And waited. What started as a rain delay turned into a suspension, and then a postponement of the suspended game. After missing the rest of Monday and all of Tuesday, the teams finally reconvened on Wednesday to play what had essentially become a three-inning game. The Phillies scored first after play resumed, then held on for the championship.
Game 5 would have been the defining game of this series no matter how it turned out. It took three days to play the thing, after all. But it was also the best game in terms of quality of play. When the teams resumed play in the bottom of the sixth - two days after the Rays had tied it in the top of the inning - Philadelphia reclaimed the lead after just three batters. In the top of the seventh, the Rays struck again, with Rocco Baldelli tying the game with a one-out home run. Then came the play of the series. With Jason Bartlett on second and two outs, Tampa Bay's Akinori Iwamura grounded one up the middle. Utley was able to track the ball down but had no play at first. Instead, he jumped, faked a throw to first, then fired home to nail a surprised Bartlett, who was trying to surprise the Phillies himself. Inspired by their second baseman, it again took the Phillies only three batters to reclaim the lead, on Pedro Feliz's single to center, and this time the Rays couldn't answer.
Phillies ace Cole Hamels was named the MVP after winning Game 1 and pitching well in Game 5, but it was an odd choice. He was good, but not overpowering. His award seems like one of those where the voters didn't really know who to pick, so they just went with the ace.
(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:
44. 2008 - Philadelphia (N) def. Tampa Bay (A) 4-1
45. 1933 - New York (N) def. Washington (A) 4-1
46. 1929 - Philadelphia (A) def. Chicago (N) 4-1
47. 1982 - St. Louis (N) def. Milwaukee (A) 4-3
48. 1923 - New York (A) def. New York (N) 4-2
49. 1944 - St. Louis (N) def. St. Louis (A) 4-2