THEY STAYED LATE into the night - or, rather, early into the morning. First came midnight, then 1 a.m., and then the clock started ticking toward 2. Not all of the players remained, but enough to provide conversation, not just about the unfortuante events that had transpired hours earlier, but about the course of action from that point forward.
Later, as Carlos Ruiz drove home with some friends from his native Panama, navigating South Philadelphia's mostly empty streets, the Phillies catcher spoke words that were similar to the ones that floated through the home clubhouse in the wake of the three-run, ninth-inning rally that had given the Yankees a 3-1 series lead in Game 4 Sunday night.
"It was a little quiet,'' Ruiz said, "but at the same time, I told them, 'It's not over.' Tomorrow I'm going to come back and give 100 percent, and I know my teammates are going to do it too.''
All season, the Phillies have talked of their mental fortitude, of the way they shed defeat like a waterproof deck, of their remarkable ability to live 24 hours at a time. Last night, in an 8-6 victory over the Yankees in their first elimination game in 2 years, they offered verifiable evidence that perhaps they do carry with them an unquantifiable quality that can make them just the fourth team in history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven World Series with the final two games on the road.
The odds weren't necessarily against them last night, not with playoff sensation Cliff Lee on the mound and a sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park. But after Alex Rodriguez' RBI double gave the Yankees four runs in their last five outs of the series, not to mention a 1-0 lead in the first inning of Game 5, even the most strong-willed of teams might have allowed visions of an opponent's celebration to flash through their heads.
New York had scored 19 runs in its last 24 innings after mustering just one in its first 12. Righthander A.J. Burnett, 4-0 with a 2.33 ERA in four career starts on 3 days' rest, had allowed just one run on four hits, striking out nine, while pitching the Yankees to a 3-1 victory in Game 2. And the Phillies' lineup had just four hits in 22 at-bats with runners in scoring position since its 6-1 victory in Game 1.
But it took just one swing of the bat for what several players said was an overwhelmingly positive pregame vibe in the clubhouse to manifest itself on the field. With runners on first and second and no outs in the first, Chase Utley cracked a first-pitch fastball from Burnett into the rightfield seats to give the Phillies a 3-1 lead they would never relinquish.
"You know, scoring runs early is important if you can do it,'' said Utley, who finished the game hitting .333 with five home runs and eight RBI in the series. The five homers ties Reggie Jackson's World Series record. "It takes a little pressure off everybody . . . Any time you can score early runs, it's beneficial.''
If Lee felt any pressure in his fifth postseason start - he had allowed two earned runs in 33 1/3 innings in his first four - his ice-cold demeanor kept it well-hidden. He held the Yankees scoreless from the second through the seventh inning, allowing two hits and three baserunners, none of whom reached third. In the meantime, the Phillies' offense produced its most impressive performance of a frustrating World Series.
It would be easy to take Utley's first-pitch home run as the sign that they had altered their strategy against Burnett, swinging early and often after spending much of Game 2 waiting for the righthander to make a mistake. But the Phillies were patient when it behooved them, and aggressive when it mattered. They drew three walks off Burnett, one each by Utley and Howard, to set the stage for a three-run third inning that knocked him out of the game.
Then, in the seventh, Utley and Raul Ibanez connected on solo home runs off Phil Coke to extend the lead to 8-2.
Although the runs might have seemed gratuitous, they proved crucial. Lee returned to the mound for the eighth inning having thrown 102 pitches and quickly allowed three straight hits - a single by Johnny Damon, a double by Mark Teixeira, and a two-run double by Rodriguez off Ibanez' glove in leftfield. Righthander Chan Ho Park recorded the final three outs, but a sacrifice fly by Robinson Cano cut the Phillies' lead to 8-5.
Manager Charlie Manuel opted for Ryan Madson in the ninth inning, one night after closer Brad Lidge allowed three runs with two outs in the aforementioned Game 4 loss. But Jorge Posada led off with a double, then moved to third on a single by Hideki Matsui, bringing the tying run to the plate with no outs.
"In that situation, I'm just trying to get outs,'' Madson said. "I knew that I had three runs to work with.''
He got two with one pitch, as Derek Jeter grounded into a crucial doubleplay, scoring a run. Although Damon hit a single, Madson rebounded to strike out Teixeira to end the game.
One night after digging themselves a potentially life-sucking, 3-1 hole, the Phillies found themselves right where one of these two teams had to be heading into Game 6: trailing 3-2, needing just one win to force a decisive Game 7.
Eleven teams have overcome a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series, five of them in the World Series.
With righthander Pedro Martinez on the mound tomorrow facing a yet-to-be-named starter - either Andy Pettitte on 3 days' rest or seldom-used righthander Chad Gaudin - the Phillies still have a chance to write their names in history.
"The mentality was like, it's not over,'' Ruiz said. "We still have a chance. We have to go out there one game at a time. That was the conversation we had with my teammates before the game."
They'll have it again tomorrow.
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.