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10/29/08 4:12 PM ET

Game 5 resuming as instant cliffhanger

Sixth-inning stretch leads to must-see history

PHILADELPHIA -- Never have three and a half innings been so highly anticipated.

As Benjamin Franklin said: "Applause waits on success."

Every pitch -- starting with the 188th of the game -- will be magnified. Every swing. The whole World Series hangs in the balance.

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Philadelphia and Tampa Bay are tied in this unforgettable Game 5, 2-2, and fans will settle into their sections for the resumption of possibly the most significant sporting event in the lives of every player on the field.

It is accidental drama, to an extent, the result of forces of nature so unusual that all of us have landed at this unprecedented place.

The game, officially, is on. It presumably will be a beginning like no other. Tonight, there will be no National Anthem. Instead, they are going with "God Bless America" before the game resumes, sung by the same representative of the Armed Services who was scheduled for Monday's seventh-inning stretch. But will the lineups be introduced as if it's the start of a full game? Will there be a first pitch or other pregame ceremonies?

There is no blueprint to follow. This is no September continuation of a suspended game, one in which the start almost happens like elevator music. This is a cliffhanger that determines whether the Phillies win the World Series for the second time in franchise history and for the first time since 1980.

This is a cliffhanger that determines whether the Rays, down 3-1 in the best-of-seven Series, extend the Fall Classic by sending it back to St. Petersburg, indoors, where all those clanging cowbells await, a herd to be heard if Tampa Bay survives this bone-chilling battle of bullpens.

One important thing to remember is, we enter this movie in its most important scenes, knowing all the twists and plotlines that led to the climactic final third. You know the drill, it's so riveting you cover your eyes and can't help looking through the intended gaps between the fingers.

Whether you are disappointed or understanding with the way Monday night's first 39 steps/outs unfolded, this game is what it is. It is a fact. Everybody is looking at the same map known as baseball: You are here.

Monday, sure, the game could have been called before five innings, and we'd be starting from scratch. But Philly still wouldn't have Cole Hamels.

They could have called it after five innings, and we'd be left with a resumed game that conspiracy theorists would vent could have been a 2-1 rain-shortened final followed by a trophy presentation to the Phillies on a back-door technicality. We all know that wasn't going to happen, and so did both teams' managers and front offices.

They could have not started Game 5 at all, and you'd have Tampa Bay pitching, say, true ace James Shields instead of Scott Kazmir against Hamels tonight. And guess what? People who are prone to be mad on both sides would be mad. Jimmy Rollins got hit by the pitch. Cole Hamels balked. Wah, wah, wah.

Speculation in hindsight is an irrational yet you-have-every-right pastime. In passing the time during this Sixth Inning Stretch, the mother of all in-game breaks, that same looking back has made what's ahead even more intensely interesting.

Going forward, moaning, besides, does not set the vibe of victory. Never has. Get over it. The teams have.

To quote favorite son Franklin once again:

"Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain, and most fools do."

Excitement is on deck. Bottom line. The top of the sixth ended late Monday night. It turns back on, at full power, in prime time, two nights later. Babies have been born, new cars purchased, people have accepted new jobs, life has gone on. The World Series has stood still.

We have something in front of us, and behind us, that is, to borrow a word from Will Ferrell: ginormous. (OK, so let the record show he's not Benjamin Franklin.)

The sky was the limit on Monday night. When Game 5 picks up, the stars will have aligned in a way that makes this a turn-key thriller.

We have two magnificent managers, two extraordinarily hungry teams, a Rocky and a Cinderella, and we have fan bases that are emphatically engaged.

In a city where adults are charged $2 to see Mr. Franklin's final resting place, near the Betsy Ross House, down the way from the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the National Constitution Center and so much more, World Series history takes its place, with the potential for a statue of some sort to come of it, then a parade. Unless ...

It is unscriptable theater. Will Philadelphia fans be as into it from the get-go as they would be if it were the bottom of the sixth, score tied, in an uninterrupted Game 5? Hard to say, but one would think yes, if not more.

That's because there has been time for the passion to grow, for the context to sink in, for the added anxiety.

Pull up a chair, not that many in Citizens Bank Park will be seated. They'll opt to stand as if every pitch is being delivered on a full count. There's no time to pace yourselves, fans of both teams, or fans of the sport generally.

It's on. Go time. You want a piece of me?

This is the Fall Classic. Tampa Bay's offense has nine outs to play with. Philadelphia has a dozen. The pitching staffs and hitters have to navigate constantly crucial situations. The defenses will be under the microscope. All of this, fittingly, is happening on a night when every breath will be visible in the historic Philly air.

Those white towels will be waving. They do not signify surrender. Quite the opposite. They may, instead, represent wings. Tonight, Game 5 takes flight, like a rocket.

It's the bottom of the sixth, and for roughly an hour and a half, postseason baseball is poised to be on top of the world.

You are cordially invited to follow this bit of wisdom from Mr. Franklin as October 2008 ticks to its close, whatever direction it inspires: "Do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of."

Dinn Mann is the Editor in Chief for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.