Dreams deferred one more day

In the city of "Rocky," of course fans envisioned a triumph. Yet they didn't expect it.

Posted: September 30, 2007

Laurie Lane, 51, sat under the giant neon Liberty Bell deep behind center field last night, in the last seat of the last row. The game was over. The fans were leaving. The Phillies had lost.

She and her son, Mike, 28, had awoken with wild enthusiasm. Let's go watch the Phillies make history, the son said to his mother. It was the same hope that 45,000 fans had awoken with - that the Phillies would win yesterday, that the New York Mets would lose, and that the division title would be theirs.

But this is Philadelphia.

The Hollywood ending will have to wait.

At least one more day.

And maybe it will never come, replaced by an ending much more tragic, but much more familiar.

"I'm sick to my stomach," Laurie Lane said, sitting beneath the silent bell. (It rings when the Phillies win.) "I really am. I'm just totally distraught."

She and her son paid $90 each to scalpers for $12 standing-room-only tickets. A very nice usher gave them the last-row seats. But the view from there wasn't any better - the Phillies still made errors, played lifelessly, looked nothing like they had the three previous nights. So many things went wrong.

Rather than wave their rally towels yesterday, many fans draped them over their heads.

And many were like the fans of old. They booed starting pitcher Adam Eaton when he left the game in the third inning, trailing the Washington Nationals, 1-0.

"They get this far, every time, and they blow it," said Mike Lane, who said he had watched 150 Phillies games on television this season.

Fans came to Citizens Bank Park yesterday afternoon ready for that Hollywood ending. It seemed inevitable when the stunningly glorious, beautiful day began.

Less than three weeks ago, the Phillies had no hope of winning their division. But the first-place Mets suffered a collapse of epic proportions. The Phillies came from seven games back and took over the lead Friday night. Fans just felt in their bones that the fairy tale would continue yesterday: The Phillies would win, and the Mets would lose. And Jimmy Rollins would have been right all along: The Phillies had become the team to beat.

But the opposite happened.

Now the two teams are tied again, as they were after Thursday's games. The last contest of the 162-game regular season is today. If the Phillies lose and the Mets and the San Diego Padres win, the Phillies are done - an ending that seemed utterly impossible somehow just yesterday morning.

If both the Phillies and Mets win or lose, they will meet here tomorrow for a tiebreaker.

Fans came with their red war paint, with Ps shaved into their chest hair. The Mets started their game against the Florida Marlins earlier than the Phillies-Nationals game. Before the Phillies even took the field, the Mets were winning, 8-0. Every fan here knew it.

They had come hoping to party on into the night - and end a 13-year playoff drought - but with an eye on the Mets score, they realized there would be no partying last night, no matter how their game ended. That seemed to change everything.

The temperature was 76. The sky was as blue as the '70s Phillies road uniforms. But everyone was tight - players and fans. The pressure was on.

Nick Martino, 33, of Erial in Camden County, had great seats behind home plate, but he is superstitious, just like his father, and he had to pace around in Ashburn Alley behind center field. His father, Nick, 56, is so superstitious he didn't even come. The Phillies had won almost all week without him, so he figured he had better stay home and let them continue their winning streak.

Well, pacing and staying home didn't help.

The Phils fell behind, 4-0.

The younger Martino was fatalistic in a bemused, accepting, Philadelphia way as he drank water and paced.

"It's a Philly story," he said in the eighth inning. "You're all the way back, you fight and fight, and then you finish a game out."

"I think they're going to blow it tomorrow," Martino added. "I don't want them to. But I think they will. Maybe that's the way we were brought up, to expect the worst."

He plans to come back today, with or without his father.

Not everyone leaving the ballpark last night was despairing. Helen Kirsch, a nun from Wayne, was here with friends and family. She was once a basketball star at Immaculata. Her family said her number hangs from the rafters there. The nun still had hope.

"I think they're exhausted," she said of the Phillies. "But they'll take a deep breath, come back tomorrow. I really, really hope they win."

From her lips to God's ears.


Contact staff writer Michael Vitez at 215-854-5639 or mvitez@phillynews.com.

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