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Posted: Thursday October 30, 2008 2:00AM; Updated: Thursday October 30, 2008 3:47AM
Michael Bamberger Michael Bamberger >

Phillies strike big blow for baseball in football-loving Philadelphia

Story Highlights

Philly is a football town and Game 5's second half felt like a football game

Before the game, Philly fans talked it up like they routinely do Eagles games

Then it played out like football, with the Phils claiming a see-saw victory

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PHILADELPHIA -- For a while now, this has been a football town, and on Wednesday at 8:40 p.m., with a game-time temperature of 34 degrees and fans in goose-down hunting jackets and players breathing steam from their mouths like horses in a barn, it felt like even more of one. Game 5 of the World Series -- or Part II of it, anyway -- unfolded at hyper-speed, the way a football game does when coaches run film, fast-forwarding through the boring parts. Part II had four quarters: bottom of the sixth, the seventh, the eighth, top of the ninth. And then Brad Lidge, the Phillies closer, fell to his knees in victory. The 45,000 fans at Citizens Bank Park did not move, and not because they were frozen. The wait was over and now the citizenry had something new to show the world, besides the Liberty Bell, Rocky Balboa and all those NFC football titles that never translated to a Super Bowl win. The Game 5 win will go down here as one for the ages, in part because there was something so, so footballish about it.

Every week when the Eagles play, from Week 1 right through the end, time stops, in the suburbs, in South Jersey, all over the city. When the Eagles were in the Super Bowl in 2004, two cars out of three, by my informal count, were festooned with something green. But during the baseball playoffs, including the first four games of the World Series, you couldn't say the same of this year's Phillies. In black North Philadelphia, the '08 team hardly made a dent. Until Game 5 came, with its unique two-part format. (Thanks, Bud!)

"Every Sunday is like the World Series in North Philly," said Omar Donaldson, who was working the Series as a security guard. "People on the porch, grilling with the game on. Silver Lounge is always hopping." Baseball there, at his bar and in his neighborhood, is an after-thought. But then Game 5 came, and everything changed. The stakes were so high. It was the last chance to win at home. "Even my mom was like, 'Bring me home one of those towels.'" Those little scratchy white give-away rally towels, with no capacity to absorb water, suddenly had value.

In the two days leading up to Part II, AM radio here was filled with callers and old newspaper guys analyzing the moves and counter-moves the two head coaches -- that would be Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon -- would make in the first two quarters. He'll go lefty and the other guy will go right and J-Roll will come up and they'll turn him around and ...

In football, all that build-up and all that, not second guessing but pre-guessing, is part of the fun, a factor in the betting lines and has a lot to do with why the NFL has become the national pastime. In a normal baseball game, the kind that begins in the first inning, you don't think about such things. For the first 30 or so outs, the game just unfolds. That Andy Reid, the Eagles coach, he's plotting and scheming long before the opening kickoff and the fans are doing the same.

For Part II, you had that all over Philadelphia. Pat Gillick, the Phillies GM, went into a bar Tuesday night to get a sandwich with his wife. As he was leaving, he heard some young guys arguing about what Manuel's pitching rotation should be. Gillick, the baseball lifer, couldn't resist: he stuck his capped head into their conversation and said, "It's going to be Madson, Romero, Lidge." Which is how it played out.

Things were electric in the first quarter, or, if you prefer, the bottom of the sixth of the resumed game, with the score 2-2, Phillies leading. (The Las Vegas lines concluded that the Phillies, with three more outs to spend than the Rays and a better bullpen, were the favorites.) Geoff Jenkins doubled and Jimmy Rollins moved him to second on a first-pitch sac bunt, or was it before the first pitch? The Phils scored, the Rays scored, the Phils scored. Four-three, your final. Phils in five. A classic, of a wild and windy sort. Game 5 ended just short of 10 p.m., or about the time Saturday night's rain-delayed Game 3 began. The Phillies were not going to let this one go back to a domed stadium. That happened in '93, when the Phils lost Game 6 of the World Series in Toronto. But that was then.

In victory, the weird-looking Liberty Bell, outlined in neon lights and high above center field, shook from side to side. Fireworks were shot off and the smoke blew in the direction of the parking lot Holiday Inn, the one that Ron Jaworski, the old Eagles quarterback, used to own, the one were Jim Fregosi, manager of the '93 Phils, spent most of his nights during that season. On the other side of the ballpark, the Linc sat dark and lonely and cold. The Eagles look only so-so this year, but it's still early. Michael Nutter, the new Philadelphia mayor, made the point that just a month or so ago Philadelphia baseball fans were hoping the Phillies would secure the wild-card spot. "And now," he said, "we're the world champions."

That has a nice ring, especially in a football town where the football team has never won the Super Bowl. The thing about the Super Bowl is, you don't win it at home. About the first thing Charlie Manuel, the Phillies manager, said upon winning is, "I'm glad we could do this at home."

Maybe this World Series win will bring the city, the whole city, back to where it belongs, back to baseball. The manager knows what he's doing, in more ways than one. (Did he outsmart smart Joe Maddon? The AM stations are already full of that topic.) With a roaring twang, the first thing the skipper said to the crowd at the Bank was, "This is for Philadelphia!"

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