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Complete euphoria, or worst nightmare awaits all Philadelphians

PHILADELPHIA -- In Philadelphia, folks are used to seeing the sky fall on their greatest sports parades.

Just usually, it's not quite this literally.

In Philadelphia, a place I confess I've lived most of my life, they know stuff happens in sports. They just wonder why it's mostly bad stuff. Especially when things seem way too good -- by which we mean way too non-Philadelphian -- to be true.

So Game 5 of the 2008 World Series fits right in. It's so utterly Philadelphian, they should place a DVD of it in William Penn's hand, way up there on top of City Hall.

One day, these folks are pouring through the gates of a ballpark they love, certain they're about to watch a team they love do something they've witnessed once in their lives, their parents' lives, their grandparents' lives, the founding fathers' lives and, when you get right down to it, even the dinosaurs' lives:

Win a World Series.

Next thing they know, there's more water falling on their heads than flowing between the banks of the Schuylkill. Their sure-handed shortstop can't catch a pop-up. Their best pitcher can't grip the pitch that has made him what he is. And their happy little march to the parade floats has turned into an all-time weather debacle.

Only in Philadelphia.

Sooner or later -- hopefully as soon as 8:37 p.m ET Wednesday night -- Bud Selig will invite them all back to the ballpark to finish Game 5. And maybe it will all turn out fine for the Phillies and the millions of human beings whose mental health depends on them.

But that isn't what most of those humans are thinking right now. Ohhhhh no.

They're thinking: Even Mother Nature doesn't want them to win.

They're thinking: It's their meteorological Bartman Moment.

But above all, they're thinking: This could happen only in Philadelphia, a place where heartbreak in sports is the specialty of the house.

Well, if it means anything to these people, they should know that the team they've surgically attached their psyches to isn't thinking the way they're all thinking.

Asked Tuesday if he was worried about his players' ability to put this weird turn of events behind them, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel replied, confidently: "I don't think there's going to be any problem at all. I think we've been resilient now for the last couple of years. I think we know exactly where we're going and what we want to do. We're going to be ready."


Asked the night before what he would tell the fans who had shown up Monday at Citizens Bank Park believing they were about to see their team win the World Series, Phillies ace Cole Hamels retorted: "That's what we're believing. And that's what we still believe. Now it won't obviously be tonight. But tomorrow. That's what we really want to do. We want to do it in Philly, in front of the fans who have really been there for us all year."

Of course, every team says stuff like that about its fans this time of year. But this time, it's different. This time, it's those fans -- those weary, desperate, beaten-down, angst-ridden, broken dreamers -- who have become one of the most intriguing parts of this plot line.

These people have spent the last parade-free quarter-century walking around with such a profound, universal sense of dread that every one of them should have been assigned his or her own personal psychological counselor.

They weren't merely aware of all the natural sporting disasters that had befallen their teams through the years -- from Chico Ruiz to the Fog Bowl, from Black Friday to Smarty Jones. They'd spent much of their lives contemplating just how and when their next nightmare was about to demolish their spirit, with one swing of the big old sporting wrecking ball.

But then something amazing happened.

There was something about this Phillies team that gave them faith, gave them the courage to conquer that dread.

They'd just seen their team win one game on a 2 a.m. dribbler down the line and another on a mighty home run by a pitcher they'd never before confused with Mike Schmidt. They found their team leading this World Series, three games to one. And all of a sudden, for once in their lives, they were convinced this was their time, that it was finally safe to trust this team.

That's a phenomenon, you understand, that's more rare in this universe than the aurora borealis. So when it erupted over the last few weeks, it was so striking that even these players themselves noticed it.

"Even when we'd lose a game late in the season," said third baseman Greg Dobbs, "the stuff we'd hear was: 'That's OK, boys. Get 'em tomorrow.' Not: 'Boo, you suck.' We got none of that. So you know how people say you learn more about yourselves and others when you face adversity? I think that's something I learned from the fans. I realized that these fans have actually turned the corner."

But in Philadelphia, it's never a shock that, just when they least expect it, the corner is always waiting to turn on them. So now it has turned. One more time.

And, naturally, it wouldn't even be the first time the weather gods did the turning.

It's now 31 years since another October monsoon washed away another Phillies team's dreams -- 31 years since the Phillies and Dodgers played an entire, LCS-ending game in conditions right out of the set of "A Perfect Storm." And of course, people in Philadelphia spent all day Tuesday reminiscing about that day -- because no good Philadelphia sports horror story deserves to be put out of its misery. Ever.

But at least, unlike that day, the commissioner of baseball didn't pretend that this time around it wasn't even raining. At least this time, the commish noticed those raindrops and placed this game in a state of suspended animation.

So at least this time -- with 3½ innings left to be played in Game 5 -- there's a chance for this Phillies team to rewrite this story.

Or not.

So that's the plot line hovering over this World Series whenever Game 5 resumes.

If, somehow, the Phillies don't go on to win, this World Series could wind up leaving a scar on their fan base the size of the King of Prussia Mall.

But if they do, they can turn this goofy weather mess into something to laugh about during every October deluge for the next thousand years.

So this is now more than a mere sporting event, friends. It's a life-altering event for an entire community. Do these people get their parade and release their demons? Or does one horrendously ill-timed act of nature drive them deeper into the Cuckoo's Nest?

It will all be played out on a soggy October baseball field. Only in Philadelphia.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.