Finally, a Philadelphia sports title

The Phillies' win may go beyond the city to benefit Major League Baseball more widely.

Julie Jacobson/AP
At last! Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz (right) ran out to greet pitcher Brad Lidge after he clinched the Series with a strikeout.

Rocky Balboa, take a seat: There are new champs in Philly.

Philadelphia has finally done it – won a World Series. It's the first major sports title for the city in 25 years.

The Phillies took the championship four games to one on Wednesday night by beating the Tampa Bay Rays, 4-3. Now, the city, painting itself Phillies red, is getting ready to treat its wildly enthusiastic fans to a parade and a party.

Yet the win may go beyond the banks of the Delaware River to benefit Major League Baseball more widely. Some fans saw this World Series as one of the first emerging from the steroids era – a squeaky-clean "small ball" game featuring lanky young players playing for the love of the game, more than for the money. Some fans also saw this Fall Classic as lending support to a workable smaller-market model: Both the Rays of Tampa Bay, Fla., (a small-market team) and the Phillies (a mid-market one) have developed home-grown talent and benefited from a 12-year-old revenue-sharing agreement. It could all signal advances in curbing Major League Baseball's fiscal and athletic excesses.

"This series opens the door for small-city franchises who are relying on draft choices, smart trading, and player development, and it gives a higher probability to teams like the Rays to sustain their success," says Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. With equity finding its way back into the sport of summer, major-league dynasties will have to adjust – perhaps by taking a page from the playbooks of this year's World Series contenders. "[Big payroll] teams will have ... a tougher job to maintain dominance," he says.

The win is also important to the psyche of America's fifth-largest city. Some residents will readily say they're tired of being ignored with New York on one side and Washington on the other.

"A lot of residents read The New York Times and when the Phillies or Eagles win, the article is a paragraph, and when they lose, it's a much bigger article," says Mills Chapman, a Philadelphia-area schoolteacher and longtime Phillies fan.

The win is particularly sweet in this sports-obsessed city, a place where almost everyone can tell you where they were when their team lost their last World Series attempt in 1993.

This victory wasn't easy. Game 5 actually started Monday but was suspended when the term Mudville was more appropriate for the playing field. The next day, Mother Nature intervened with gale-force winds and frigid temperatures. The Phillies' win on Wednesday night had a little bit of everything – home runs, doubles, stolen bases – and a Rays runner, the tying run, stranded on second base in the top of the ninth inning.

"Nothing is ever easy in Philadelphia," says Doreen Mosher, one of the towel-swinging fans at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night. "But chills just run up and down my spine because it's been so long and this town just loves this team and we're so dedicated. I truly believe we deserve it."

Many of the celebrating fans are part of families who have had season tickets for generations. That's the case with Darren Hibbs, whose now-deceased father attended the games for 45 years. "We're third-generation Phillies fans with only one World Series up until tonight," says the Marlton, N.J., lawyer. "We'll go shed a few tears."

Many of the fans admit to devising ways to try to protect themselves from the many disappointments through the years – including one of the worst moments in 1993 when Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams gave up a Series-winning home run to Joe Carter of Toronto. One of those fans is Mr. Chapman, who tries to find other things to do when the Phillies are not at bat. "You prepare yourself for your emotions to go so much lower," he says.

After the game was suspended Monday night, some fans blamed Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who was roundly booed when he took part in the postgame presentation on the field. "The city feels they're doing everything to get us," says Bruce Kuklick, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. "It's officialdom in league with the forces of nature: That's why Philadelphia fans feel that they are always going to be overwhelmed."

But the players themselves might have had the right attitude. "The Phillies have really had a mind-set of bring it on, embrace the moment, and why not us?" says Joel Fish, director of the Center for Sport Psychology in Philadelphia. "Whenever you have a team that can approach a streak or history that way, I think those teams stand a much better chance of handling the pressure and the baggage that comes along with history."

Some of the signs in the stands at the game expressed the fans' joy and pent-up frustrations. One fan wrote, "The Rays will not shine on our parade."

Indeed, on Wednesday night, a boisterous celebration had begun as thousands of fans partied in the streets. The official parade is Friday. As one sign in the stadium put it, "Broad Street get ready."

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