How close? So close that all it will take to stop the incessant ticking of the championship drought clock is one more win.

All it will take for the Phillies is one more World Series victory Monday night, and they get to send Cole Hamels, perhaps the best homegrown pitcher since Robin Roberts, to the mound to get it.

This isn't really the current team's burden to bear, this empty stretch of 28 years since the franchise's only previous World Series championship, or the stretch of 25 years since any major team in Philadelphia ended the postseason with a win. The 2008 Phillies can only play the 2008 season, after all.

But they can put an end to the drought nonsense on Monday night. They can break the curses of Billy Penn, Moses Malone, Von Hayes, Eric Lindros and Terrell Owens all at the same time. These Phillies can finally end the taproom time-waster of a question: Which local team has the best chance of winning the next championship?

After tonight's romping 10-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, the correct answer is definitely, "Phillies." They've got a real nice shot right now.

They lead the best-of-seven World Series three games to one and Hamels, the tall lefthander with the world-class change-up, can improve his postseason record to a perfect 5-0 if he sets off the champagne celebration in Citizens Bank Park on Monday.

Tonight's game was a must-win situation for the Rays, although they didn't play and weren't managed with that kind of urgency. Indeed, Tampa Bay played poorly. Starter Andy Sonnanstine walked too many batters and put too many runners on base, and the defense behind him wasn't very good, either.

Manager Joe Maddon let Sonnanstine stay on the mound as if it were the middle game of a three-night set in Kansas City in June rather than a game that would put his team in a 3-1 World Series hole with the other guy's ace coming around.

Howard's homers

Maddon let Sonnanstine hang around even though the righthander couldn't find the plate with any frequency until he found it in the fourth inning with two men on base and Ryan Howard at the plate. Howard sliced a drive over the left field wall and the Phillies had a 5-1 lead. At that point, the odds that the Series would return to Tropicana Field dipped sharply.

Howard would homer again in the eighth inning, his third home run in two nights, to add two more runs of insurance on top of the growing pile and to give him five runs batted in for the game.

Tampa Bay, meanwhile, didn't make much of a dent in Phillies' starter Joe Blanton, one of several players added to the roster during the season by general manager Pat Gillick. Blanton gave up just four hits in his first six innings of work and was touched for the two runs on solo home runs.

Blanton erased the effects of the second homer by hitting one over the wall himself, the first extra-base hit of his career. If he looked somewhat shocked as he circled the bases - the first pitcher to hit a World Series home run since Oakland's Ken Holtzman in 1974 - he looked positively amazed when he came out of the game in the seventh and was greeted by a towel-waving standing ovation from the crowd of 45,903 in Citizens Bank Park.

Hot at the right time

It has been that kind of recent stretch for the Phillies, who got very hot at the right time of the season. They have won 23 of their last 29 games since Sept. 11, including 10 of 13 in the postseason. At home, they are 6-0 in the playoffs heading into what could be the final game of the season.

Tampa Bay thought it was on that kind of a roll, too, as the Rays survived a near-collapse in the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox. But although the Rays - a last-place team since their inception - were a feel-good story, they haven't been a play-good story.

The Rays have batted just .187 thus far in the Series, their pitchers have issued roughly twice as many walks as the Phillies' pitchers, and they haven't fielded all that well. Two of the Phils' runs tonight were unearned. Other than that, not bad.

By being a little bit better overall, and a little bit luckier at times, the Phillies have advanced to within one game of a clinch while batting just 6 for 47 (.128) with runners in scoring position. Four of those hits came tonight.

Little of that statistical drivel will be remembered as the years stretch onward if Hamels wins on Monday and the 2008 Phillies end the drought, break the curse, jump the shark and bring the Rays flopping into the boat.

What will be remembered is the feeling of that October night, because the feeling doesn't come around that often.

So close.