The Phillies are back at Tropicana Field tonight, just about eight months too late. Had a few things gone differently in October, they would have returned sooner, for a Game 6, then potentially a Game 7, which might have changed the Rays' world, and the World Series. For some Rays, the outcome of the Series is a cold case, with any lingering questions to be left unanswered. But for others, there is still reasonable doubt as to how things might have been different. "I wish we just could have brought it back to the Trop just to see what happened," Carl Crawford said. What if?
What if Game 5 hadn't been interrupted by weather just after the Rays rallied to tie and not resumed until 46 hours, and a couple of nights in Delaware, later?
"To this day, I think if that game would have kept on going, we would have won it," Carlos Peña said. "We had momentum on our side at that point. …
"You always think about that. You're like, if that game wouldn't have ended like that, we would have taken that one and then we take it to the house (the Trop) and it's a totally different situation. … And the Trop would have been nuts."
Had the Rays won Game 5, the Series would have been 3-2 Philadelphia with the final two games at home, with James Shields and Matt Garza lined up to start.
"I wouldn't say we would have won it all because that team (the Phillies) were obviously a great team," Shields said, "but we definitely would have had a better chance if we got back home."
The Phillies knew that, said Pat Burrell, who was on their side and is a Ray now, and were determined to avoid a return trip.
"I really think the two days off helped us more than anything, helped the Phillies," Burrell said. "People were upset when they stopped the game with the way things happened, and rightfully so. But when we got back home and had the day and realized okay, it's a tie game and we have 12 outs to their nine so the advantage is really in our favor."
What if the weather in Philly hadn't been so wet and cold and raw in the first place?
"That," B.J. Upton said, "is the big what if."
Obviously, both teams had it just as bad. But the Phillies were at least more used to that kind of thing, and the Rays weren't able to play their kind of game — stealing, taking extra bases, playing airtight defense.
"You could see how all of our strengths were pretty much negated because of the weather," Peña said.
What if the Rays hadn't been extended to a seventh game against Boston on Sunday night with the Series opening Wednesday?
"We were absolutely exhausted," Peña said. "Not as much physically, but emotionally drained. I'll always think, what if we just had one extra day. I'm telling you, they were calling our names out to the line and I'm like, 'Let's go, wake up, we're in the World Series.' I'm trying to go around the entire dugout and smack everybody like, 'Hey, we have to start over again.' "
What if Evan Longoria and Peña had done better?
The two key hitters in the middle of the Rays lineup didn't hit during the Series. Combined, they hit .081, going 3-for-37 with 15 strikeouts. "What it came down to," manager Joe Maddon said, "is that they really pitched well."
What if Maddon hadn't stuck with Grant Balfour when Game 5 resumed and "started" David Price?
Price, naturally, figures he would have gotten all 12 outs. "Absolutely," he said. "I'd loved to have gotten the ball; that would have been great. But that was Joe, and nobody is going to question his decisions. He's probably the main reason why we got there."
Actually, that has been the biggest question of Maddon. But he insists that if he got to do it over again today, he still would use Balfour, who gave up a leadoff double to lefty swinging Geoff Jenkins that led to the go-ahead run.
"I honestly not even for a second have second-guessed that personally," Maddon said.
His logic, like or not, remains the same: He wanted to save Price for the ninth, he had to be mindful that they had to win three games on consecutive nights and Balfour had pitched well and was rested, and without knowing how long the game would go, Maddon didn't want to lose him.
Another option was Shields, who said he offered to pitch the end of Game 5 and start Game 6.
What if Ben Zobrist's searing line drive with the tying run on second and one out in the ninth hadn't been right at RF Jayson Werth?
"We go on to win the game and win the World Series and it's a storybook ending for last year," Zobrist said. "I hit it right on the nose. Anywhere in the gap one way or the other, a little lower, higher, anything, we would have been in business right there."
What if there weren't so many plays that seemed to go the Phillies' way?
There was Carlos Ruiz's slow dribbler to third that ended up the Game 3-winning hit. There was Jason Bartlett getting thrown out on Chase Utley's heads-up fake. There were a lot of things.
"I'm sitting there thinking what the hell — they hit a ground ball to third that bounces like 40,000 times and they win a ballgame," Peña said, "and we're hitting missiles that are getting caught."
"I think it was just meant for those guys to win it," Crawford said. "Everything just went their way, and nothing went our way."
"The world conspired against us," Maddon said. "The baseball gods did."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.