|Surging Phillies, fans celebrate NL East title at City Hall rally|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 01 October 2007 09:26|
Patience Jacobs, a fan for half a century, sported a threadbare 1970s-era T-shirt featuring Bugs Bunny in a Phillies uniform.
``I go way back to when they blew it like the Mets,'' said the 70-year-old Philadelphian, referring to the Phillies' epic late-season collapse in 1964.
This year's team fought back from a seven-game deficit with just 17 games left to earn a playoff berth for the first time since 1993. And they did it in dramatic fashion, beating the Washington Nationals 6-1 at home on the regular season's final day as the New York Mets concluded their historic slide with an 8-1 loss to the Florida Marlins.
The Phillies begin the postseason Wednesday when they host the winner of Monday night's wild-card playoff between San Diego and Colorado.
Organizers called Monday's noontime event the biggest pep rally in city history. Tightly packed fans encircled City Hall and spilled across the street to LOVE Park and beyond. They waved ``Fightin' Phils'' towels and roared ``M-V-P! M-V-P!'' when shortstop Jimmy Rollins took the stage.
``Lo and behold, the National League East belongs to one team and one city, and that's the City of Brotherly Love, baby,'' a gleeful Rollins said. He had raised eyebrows last winter when he predicted the Phillies were the team to beat in the division.
``We did this for a city that's been longing for something from this baseball team for a long time,'' Rollins said. ``But we're not done yet. ... This is party Number One. We're working on party Number Two, party Number Three (and a) parade down Broad Street.''
Fans in Philadelphia are starved for a championship. The last major title came in 1983 when the 76ers won the NBA crown.
The Sixers tried for the title again in 2001, only to face a dominating Los Angeles Lakers team led by Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant that won its second of three consecutive titles.
The Eagles, after losing three straight NFC Championship games, finally reached a Super Bowl in February 2005 but lost to the New England Patriots.
And the Flyers had their worst season in franchise history last year.
Desperate for a champion, the city even embraced local horses Smarty Jones and Barbaro, both Kentucky Derby winners, in hopes of a Triple Crown. But Smarty Jones faded down the stretch of the Belmont and Barbaro shattered his leg in the 2006 Preakness, enduring a lengthy recovery attempt before being euthanized this year.
Jennifer Troped of Bala Cynwyd surprised her 10-year-old son, Tyler, by taking him out of school for Monday's Phillies rally. He thought they were going to get eyeglasses.
``God knows if this will ever happen again,'' she said.
Phillies usher Jim Beatty wore a red T-shirt commemorating the team's dubious July 15 outing.
``I worked the 10,000th loss,'' it read.
The good-natured Beatty had made a few dozen of the shirts for co-workers. But a month later, he was sensing a change in the team, and in the fans. The turning point came when the Phillies swept the Mets at home, then pulled off a September sweep at Shea Stadium.
``Like '93, there was a new way of winning every night,'' Beatty said, referring to the last time the Phillies made the postseason, but lost the World Series to the Toronto Blue Jays.
``I think right now the momentum of the city is there,'' he said. ``I don't care who comes in. We got the momentum going.''
Associated Press Writer Randy Pennell contributed to this report.