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Posted: Sunday October 26, 2008 1:59PM; Updated: Sunday October 26, 2008 1:59PM
Michael Bamberger Michael Bamberger >
INSIDE BASEBALL

For these fans, it was a Lucky night

Story Highlights

The Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and 76ers all play in South Philadelphia

Sports fans gather in the bars, pubs and taverns all over the city and suburbs

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The Phillies rewarded the Lucky 13 Pub fans who stayed till the end with a 5-4 victory in Game 3.
The Phillies rewarded the Lucky 13 Pub fans who stayed till the end with a 5-4 victory in Game 3.
Rich Pilling /Getty Images
MLB Team Page
MLB Team Page

PHILADELPHIA -- The Bank can only hold 45,000 fans. So the real ball-watching goes on in the bars and the pubs and the taverns, hundreds upon hundreds of them, all over the city, plus hundreds more in the suburbs and over in South Jersey.

The Lucky 13 Pub, a couple miles from Citizens Bank Park in the heart of South Philadelphia, is nothing but ordinary, another baseball bar on another side street. Late on Saturday night Chase Utley came up in the eighth inning of Game 3 of this World Series, looking for his 13th game-winning hit of the year, according to a graphic that FOX put up. The dozen or so people at the bar -- neighborhood guys, off-work restaurateurs, a few kids (but of age) -- had been drinking and watching and dissecting the possibilities for hours. Several young men wore T-shirts stenciled with Utley's name. "Thirteen, Lucky 13, let's do it here, Ut," one of the men said. Utley went down swinging and a young woman let loose her frustration with a single profane word, almost at the top of her lungs. She went out to the street for a cigarette. The tension was too much.

It had been a long night -- at the Lucky, at the Bank, all over the city. The 8:30 p.m. game didn't begin until after 10, which meant more T-shirt buying, more drinking, more frayed nerves.

A man walked into the bar, and one of the kids in an Utley T-shirt asked, "You a Phillies fan?" There was no menace in his tone, but only because the kid knew that he would receive only one answer and didn't care if it was a lie. The Lucky is not the Cheers bar in Boston. Philadelphia doesn't have those kinds of bars. Nobody's making TV shows about the bars in Philadelphia. Everybody does not know your name or your rooting interests. But desperation -- the simple goal of being associated with a winner -- was enough to bond the patrons in the early hours of Sunday morning.

One-thirty came and went and the game was in the ninth. Phils 4, Rays 4. Bars close at 2 a.m. here but you could not imagine the Lucky kicking out its baseball crowd right at curfew. A baseball bar would never do such a thing.

The lighting was lousy, but the beer selection was good. There were a few old-time baseball photographs behind the bar and a few baseball books, too. There were Phillies placemats. The Lucky is a Phillies bar, not merely a sports bar. All bars in Philadelphia are sports bars, but the real question is whether they are a Phillies bar or an Eagles bar. The Lucky is a Phillies bar. Charmless, utilitarian, accessible, no better or worse than hundreds of other Philadelphia bars. The patrons were listening to Tim McCarver. Somebody said, You can learn something, listening to McCarver. Somebody else asked, Why don't they put Harry Kalas on -- why is the TV voice of the Phils doing radio in the World Series? Nobody had an answer.

An Asian man went out to the sidewalk for a smoke. South Philadelphia, birthplace of Rocky Balboa, is not Italian anymore, hasn't been for years. That is, not anything like exclusively Italian. Tommy Lasorda would still know where to go to get a nice bowl of spaghetti, but there are probably more Koreans, Vietnamese, blacks and ethnic-defying yuppies, all added together, than there are Italians. What you do still find in South Philadelphia is sporting pride. The Eagles, the Phillies, the Flyers, the Sixers -- together they've gone a century without a championship -- all play in South Philadelphia. It would be hard to live in South Philadelphia and not care about sports. The Lucky doesn't have to sell itself as a sports bar. It doesn't have to sell itself at all. It's a bar in South Philadelphia. The game's going to be on.

The Asian man came back in. He seemed new to baseball, but that didn't stop him from demanding that Ryan Howard go opposite field. A woman, way too young to know such an old custom, polished the bald head of the bartender, looking for good luck. There were no hotties at the bar. The Lucky's not that kind of place. The home ninth had arrived. Nobody was talking, or even moving.

Suddenly things were happening quickly. The bases filled up. Two a.m. was on the horizon when the Phillies won on a 40-foot ground ball and a bad throw. There was no hooting and hollering. Two games to one, that's all, with the Eagles game coming up on Sunday afternoon and Game 4 of the Series right on its heels. Somebody treated the bar to a round of shots. The heavy glasses went up, the shots went down and the glasses returned to the bar with a thud. The patrons helped clean up. The lights stayed dim. On the TV, Howard was being interviewed. He was all business. So was Eric Bruntlett, the bearded wonder, who scored the winning run. The team matched the bar and the bar matched the team. No over-celebrating. Not at this point. In this city, you learn how to wait.

 
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