IT IS FITTING enough, it seems, that the end of a quarter-century championship drought would be delayed by what feels like a hundred-year storm.

Just know this: The Phillies did not get cheated out of a World Series championship last night.

It was wet and ugly and nasty and perfect, just poetically perfect, for Philadelphians who have hungered for a crown since 1983 and ended up last night with a hatful of rain.

The game never should have been permitted to start, and everybody with access to weather radar - read, everybody - knew that. This big green blob was coming north and it wasn't stopping. That commissioner Bud Selig said that three different weather services gave him optimistic reports has made him and his sport look silly.

There are 45,000 wet, exhausted, frustrated people who sat outside in this mess and knew that it was a farce. They came in the hope of glory. What they got was abused. This should not have started - should not.

But once it was started, everybody involved insists that the Phillies were not cheated. They all said that the umpires did not wait to stop and suspend the game until after the Rays had tied it, that it didn't matter when it was stopped, that both teams were informed ahead of time that Selig would not have permitted the deciding game of the World Series to be ended by fiat, with the tarp on the field.

"I would not have allowed the World Series to end this way," Selig said late last night, at a Citizens Bank Park press conference that was crowded and uncomfortable.

The game has been suspended, tied at 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning. Play will resume from there. When? Nobody knows. Selig said it could be tonight. He said he does not know when he will know. He says he does not know how much notice he will be able to give the ticket-holding citizens of the Delaware Valley. Abused, again.

"I'm going to be very sensitive and thorough in at least making sure that we don't have a situation like we had," Selig said.

Sensitive. Thorough.

Day late. Dollar short.

But once the game started, the issue all night was this: the Rays only tied it in the top of the sixth. As the field deteriorated over the fourth and fifth innings, there were real questions being raised in the press box and throughout the ballpark because the rules in place are pretty clear:

If they had called for the tarps after the fifth inning, say, and been unable to resume, the regular-season rules say that the Phillies would have been awarded the game. It would have been a ridiculous way to win a World Series, but rules are rules and after 25 years without a major Philadelphia championship, the people of this municipality would have accepted the trophy on a tarp-covered field after a truncated game and done it with joy.

But here is what Selig, the Rays and the Phillies all say: that the regular-season rules were not in effect; that Selig had told everyone ahead of time that he would not have permitted the deciding game of the World Series to end before a proper completion.

If the tarp had been called for with the Phillies leading by 2-1, Selig said, "The game would have been in a rain delay until weather conditions allowed us to continue. And that might have been 24 hours or 48 hours or who knows."

And now?

"We'll stay here if we have to celebrate Thanksgiving here," Selig said.

Matt Silverman, president of the Rays, and Pat Gillick, general manager of the Phillies, both said that Selig had informed them in an earlier meeting of his ruling on this issue.

Gillick said, "We wanted to make sure if this game was to be played, we wanted it to play to the conclusion. I wanted it played fairly, both sides, Tampa Bay and ourselves. We were aware that the commissioner could, even with the score not tied, continue this game later and call a rain delay until the proper conditions did exist."

So the Phillies were not cheated, as much as you probably want to believe that they were. Philadelphians feeling as if they have been cheated is in the genes, after all. Anybody who lived through the Eagles' 1988 playoff loss in the Fog Bowl in Chicago knows about the conspiracy of meteorologists. We want to believe we are cursed.

Now we have just seen another chapter written in that story - the night that the rain derailed Cole Hamels and the Phillies; the night that the rules were circumvented to prevent the Phillies from winning what was rightfully theirs.

But it is fiction. The Phillies might be cursed but they were not cheated. Again, the only people who were abused were the people who bought tickets. *

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