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Phillies out to end city's title drought

The fans here have quite the nasty reputation. This is, after all, the place where Santa Claus once got booed and pelted with snowballs during a 1968 Eagles game at old Franklin Field. And now it's tradition to boo Old St. Nick when he shows up at the city's sporting venues.

But folks here are in a much better mood this weekend even though they sat through a whole lot of rain Saturday night. That's because the World Series is back in town for the first time since 1993 and the Phillies are trying to end the city's 25-year championship drought.

The Phils and Tampa Bay Rays were tied at a win apiece heading into Game Three at Citizens Bank Park, the first Series contest in the park's five-year history. After several hours of heavy, wind-whipped rain, the game finally began at 10:06 p.m. and was not complete in time for this edition. For full coverage, see buffalonews.com.

Going 25 years doesn't sound like a lot when you're in a title-starved town such as Buffalo, Cleveland or San Diego. It's an eternity in the City of Brotherly Love.

"This would be huge for the city because it's been so long since they've had a championship," said Phillies pitcher Brett Myers. "Some cities get spoiled over it and [fans] quit coming to games. Not here."

Fans got used to winning when the Flyers won Stanley Cups in 1974 and '75 and lost in the '76 finals to Montreal while going for a three-peat. The Phillies won their only title in 126 seasons in 1980. The 76ers regularly contended for the NBA title and finally broke through in 1983. And the Eagles came close in that era too, losing Super Bowl XV to the Oakland Raiders in 1981.

Since then, however, it's been a litany of failure in the big one.

The city has endured 98 combined seasons in the four major sports without a title. And there have been a ton of heartbreaks -- 48 playoff appearances (19 by the Flyers) and seven losses in the sport's championship game or series.

The Flyers lost three Stanley Cup finals (1985 and '87 to Edmonton and '97 to Detroit), the Phillies lost the 1983 World Series to Baltimore and the '93 Series to Toronto, the 76ers lost the 2001 NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Eagles lost to New England in the Super Bowl in 2004.

The Phillies, of course, hear year after year about 1980. A team that featured Philly legends such as Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Garry Maddux, Steve Carlton and Bob Boone (as well as Pete Rose) outlasted Houston in a dramatic National League Championship Series, then beat Kansas City in six games in the World Series for the franchise's only title.

The image of reliever Tug McGraw with his arms in the air after the final strikeout of Willie Wilson in old Veterans Stadium is perhaps the most vivid one in Philly sports lore.

"If you come to watch a Phillies game, I think they celebrate that every year," manager Charlie Manuel joked. "They've been celebrating it every year. I know it was a great moment, but at the same time I think our players would like to change that and add their own one."

"We don't want to hide in the shadow of 1980," added pitcher Cole Hamels. "We believe in ourselves enough, and we think we're able to go out there and do it."

The current Phillies have endeared themselves to their fans for back-to-back September runs that have knocked the reviled New York Mets from the playoffs. The Phillies wiped out a seven-game deficit in the final 17 days last season to win the National League East but were quickly wiped out in three games in the division series by Colorado.

"Anything less than going to the World Series was going to be a disappointing season this year," said catcher Chris Coste. "We remember going home last year after the incredible emotion we had winning the division. All of a sudden, in a couple days, it seemed like that was gone. This team is designed to win. We have stars that are now superstars."

One who has emerged is Hamels, who has a chance to be the first starting pitcher to win five games in a single postseason.

"We got a perspective of what we were able to accomplish last year to make the playoffs, and seeing the attention that it brought and the way that the fans came out and were celebrating," Hamels said. "Seeing the amount of people on the street wearing Phillies gear kind of shows that what we've been able to accomplish.

"We've been able to pull fans back into the game of baseball, because Philadelphia has been so hockey and basketball and football-minded. To finally bring some fans back I think really does show its appreciation of all the hard work we've done."

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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