LOS ANGELES - Here we go, ready or not.
The thirstiest sports town in the known universe, parched and dusty Philadelphia, could see its 25-year championship drought end this month.
The Phillies are going to the World Series.
Say it out loud. Shout it so William Penn can hear it atop City Hall. The Phillies are going to the World Series for the first time since the mullets-and-beer 1993 team lost to Joe Carter and the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Phillies eliminated Manny Ramirez and the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games, clinching the National League pennant last night with a heaven-kissed 5-1 victory in the City of the Angels. After the late-inning drama of Game 4, the Phillies dispatched the Dodgers with cold efficiency.
Under a full moon, on a full count, Brad Lidge retired Nomar Garciaparra on a foul pop for the final out. By the time the ball landed softly in catcher Carlos Ruiz's mitt, the Phillies were rushing onto the field for a joyous but controlled celebration.
For the third time in 19 days, players donned swim goggles and sprayed champagne - upgraded to Moet for the pennant. A fourth celebration would require just the second World Series title in franchise history - giving the lonely 1980 squad some long-awaited company.
"I think I'm going to have a heart attack," an ebullient Brett Myers said before leading a charge back onto the field. About a thousand red-clad Phillies fans had gathered behind the team's dugout. They chanted, "Four more wins," and, "Let's go, Phillies," and, finally, "We want beer."
"I don't know how they survived among all those Dodgers fans," Myers said. "Shows you how tough Phillies fans really are."
Cole Hamels, the lanky and enigmatic lefthander with the killer change-up, emerged as a money playoff pitcher by dominating for his second win of the series. His third: the trophy for most valuable player.
Shortstop and oracle Jimmy Rollins led off the clincher with a home run, just as he had in the decisive Game 4 of the division series in Milwaukee.
Chase Utley, the Cali-cool second baseman, hit a two-run home run to tie Game 1. In Game 4, he literally crawled through the infield dirt to complete a crucial, game-saving double play.
Shane Victorino, the Little Big Man centerfielder, burned his name into October lore by driving in six runs in the series, including a clutch two-run home run in the eighth inning of the pivotal Game 4.
Brett Myers, the cocky righthanded starter, made his biggest contribution in the unlikeliest of places: at the plate. Myers, who had four hits in the entire regular season, stroked three singles and drove in three runs in Game 2.
Pat Burrell, the hero of the division series clincher with a couple of home runs, won Game 1 with a solo shot.
Matt Stairs, who looks as if he should be tossing batting practice, hit one of the biggest postseason home runs in Phillies history. His pinch-hit, two-run miracle in the eighth inning of Game 4 gave the Phillies control of this series.
Lidge and the bullpen drained the life out of the Dodgers' lineup. The Phillies' late-inning offensive heroics were possible only because their relief pitchers kept L.A. from building on leads.
And then there is Charlie Manuel, the manager. Five days after the death of his mother, Manuel achieved the pinnacle of his professional life. Manuel, so maligned by fans and segments of the media for the first two years of his tenure, becomes just the sixth man to manage the Phillies to the World Series.
"I guarantee you my mom's watching right now," he said.
He can join Dallas Green as the only Phillies managers to win one, but getting there is a milestone for this career baseball man.
"We've got one more step," Manuel said. "This is the third step. We've got one more big step and then we're going to take a grand parade."
We don't know who the Phillies will face in the World Series, which begins Wednesday night in the American League city. What we know in advance, though, is that there will be no love lost between Us and Them.
Tampa Bay, which could clinch the pennant tonight, has emerged as a deep thorn in the side of Philadelphia sports fans in this decade. The Buccaneers stole the Eagles' finest Super Bowl dream in January 2003 in an NFC championship game that still figures in our collective sporting nightmares. In May 2004, the Lightning eliminated the Flyers in Game 7 of an epic Eastern Conference final.
Just to rub it in, both the Bucs and the Bolts went on to win championships - giving the Tampa/St. Petersburg fans two more championships to celebrate in the last quarter-century than we've had.
The alternative? Bah-ston. The insufferable Red Sox and their arrogant, ho-hum-another-championship fans would raise the temperature in Philadelphia even higher than the come-lately Rays.
Either team will present a challenge and, thanks to the American League's victory in July's All-Star Game, will have the home-field advantage.
But then, these Phillies have been handling very real challenges for the last month, passing the New York Mets for the NL East title, jumping on the Milwaukee Brewers in the division series, and now dispatching the Dodgers.
They are ready for this, for the ultimate baseball challenge, for the World Series. And so is a parched city hoping it finally, finally gets to drink in a championship.