PHILADELPHIA – Yes, the Philadelphia Phillies are eight wins, just eight, from their first World Series title in 28 years and this city's first major-sport championship in 25.
The weather is great, so far. People are filling up the ballpark, which still feels new. There are Phillies caps and Phillies jerseys on every rutty street corner, and Phillies stickers on every rutty bumper.
There is a budding sentiment that these Phils – Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard and Chase Utley and J-Roll and that guy who catches – might actually be onto something, considering the Phillies are a decent enough ballclub in a league where decent can go a long way. And has.
Why, it's gotten to the point where fans are driving past reliever Ryan Madson's house, honking their horns and screaming their support, which, as Madson said, is all very nice and encouraging.
"I didn't even know they knew I lived there," Madson said, grinning.
It's all great to be a Phillie again, back in the NLCS, the populace dreaming of a World Series victory, just like the other one. The players might not know it, but there's more going on here than one October in the middle of their adult lives. They've just won the franchise's fifth postseason series since about 1900, or one more than that Red Sox have in the past 54 weeks.
Of course, they could lose to the Dodgers. Madson's smile thinned.
"Now I really don't want to screw it up," Madson said, reconsidering his new-found familiarity with the townsfolk. "They'll burn my house down."
But, indeed, there is that.
Of the four teams still alive in the MLB tournament, the Phillies would seem to have the most to lose in the eyes and hearts of their locals.
The Boston Red Sox? Won, won again, and haven't all their fans died in peace already? Wasn't that the deal?
The Los Angeles Dodgers? They'd draw three million fans to watch Tommy Lasorda throw batting practice 81 times a year. Admittedly, he still throws a good curveball.
The Tampa Bay Rays? Come on. The people there just found out there is such a thing as playoffs.
So here are the Phillies, who recently have wandered into teams of destiny this time of year, last October that being the Colorado Rockies. In our lifetimes, in terms of the Phillies, there were some nice squads in the late '70s that eventually bore the 1980 World Series. There was the Gene Mauch thing in 1964. There was Joe Carter.
Now, the Atlanta Braves are down and the New York Mets keep giving away Septembers. They caught a weary and flawed Milwaukee Brewers team in the first round, and won a series they should have won. Starting Thursday night, they get the Dodgers, who, generally speaking, pitch reasonably well and hope Manny Ramirez comes up with men at first and second. That's the strategy.
So Philadelphia leans in. Mike Schmidt wore a wig here. Rollins dropped a "front-runners" on the fans this summer, and that was on the way to a division title. It's tough here. Terry Francona knows. Joe Maddon, who grew up in nearby Hazelton, knows. Lasorda knows. Larry Bowa knows.
Enough reporters asked to speak to Bowa on Wednesday that, for the first time in recent postseason memory, a team's third-base coach was summoned to the off-day, press-conference room. A veteran of Philly press conferences, Bowa walked in carrying a fungo bat. He won some games here as a manager from 2001-04, played some really good shortstop here three decades ago, and in that 1980 October the career .260 hitter batted .316 against the Houston Astros and .375 against the Kansas City Royals.
"I think they love their sports teams," Bowa said. "They let you know when you're not doing well, but they also let you know when you're doing things right. And I know that Jimmy (Rollins) said something earlier in the year, we talked about it. The one thing they're not is front-runners; they come out. … Watching the playoffs against Milwaukee, it was quite a sight. And I told our guys if they thought Chicago was bad, they're in for a rude awakening, because it's not even close."
As Rollins clarified that day, "In Philly, can't be no punk," and that was probably his broader point. Phillies fans don't suffer punks. Not the individual, and not the collective group. They've had one World Series championship here in a century.
"But," as Bowa pointed out, "it's one more than Chicago has."
That's a lot of disappointment, and perhaps a decent number of punks.
So, new October. Familiar team. The series will, of course, come down to Hamels' changeup against the Dodgers, Manny's bat barrel against Phillies' pitchers, young Dodgers hoping not to get swallowed up in the moment, the back end of the Dodgers' bullpen getting sorted out, all those left-handed bats against Dodgers starters.
Presumably, the baseball deities have not already pitted Manny against the Red Sox in the World Series, though sometimes you can't fight destiny. Therefore, most likely, it'll be about the baseball. It also will be about the town, and the Phillies' place in it. One of the papers is running a poll, the question being whether Philadelphia is a baseball town or a football town, which, incidentally, is not a current topic in L.A. That it's even a conversation in October is significant.
"You can feel it," Phillies closer Brad Lidge said. "Just during your day, going shopping, people saying stuff. It's fun. They are very hungry and very passionate about this game. People are super excited here. They want it to happen. We do, too."