Thousands of people packed the west side of City Hall yesterday in a traffic-stopping lunchtime pep rally to celebrate the Phillies' National League East title and cheer their beloved team into the playoffs.

Red T-shirts and hats were everywhere.

A giant inflatable Phillie Phanatic stood tall across the street in LOVE Park.

The real Phillie Phanatic jitterbugged on the stage, while two dozen toddlers from the Friends Child Care Center blew on yellow duck quackers.

And Phillies past and present basked in the glow of a love fest more than a decade in the making.

At 5-foot-1 1/2, Jody Barach didn't see much from the edge of the crowd but the backs of other people's heads.

No matter.

"I just wanted to be here to soak it all in," the Wynnewood woman said.

The sound system could have been better, but there was no doubt that this was the place to be.

Scott Palmer, the emcee, even declared that city officials had told him it was the largest pep rally in the city's history - a claim that could not be verified.

Many in the crowd - Barach among them - did not think two weeks ago that they would be standing on this spot celebrating anything, let alone a division championship.

Even Harry Kalas, the Phils' longtime broadcaster, said: "Time and time again this year, there seemed to be no hope."

But here they were, on a sunny day in Philadelphia, hope restored, faith renewed, love swelling in their hearts for everyone but pitcher Adam Eaton and Mayor Street. They got booed.

"I must say I kept faith for so long, but two weeks ago, I lost it," said Maxine Kam, who had walked from her home on the Delaware River. "But my faith has come back strong, and I know they're going to go all the way this time."

Chris Mahoney, a traveling nurse who happened to be near City Hall on her lunch break, was wearing a red blouse in keeping with her professional demeanor. "I never gave up hope," said Mahoney, of Ridley. "I'm one of the diehards, always have been."

Her prognosis: "Looking ahead, I can only say, 'You gotta believe,' in the words of Tug McGraw."

Ryan Robbins of Center City, who was off yesterday before starting a new job, said that until Sunday he had been "cautiously optimistic" about the Phils' chances.

Now, he said, "they're going all the way."

"They're in a weak league, they've got all the momentum, and they have the best fans in the world," Robbins reasoned.

Tom Winberry of Cheltenham has been down this road before. His shirt said it all. It was a souvenir from the 1993 World Series, which, we hate to remind anyone, the Phillies lost.

"More amazing than the Mets' implosion, more amazing than the Phils' comeback, is that I can still get into this shirt after 14 years," said Winberry, who was born a Yankees fan but converted after moving to this area.

Two weeks ago, he, too, did not think he would be at City Hall for what he called a "wonderful lunch break."

On Wednesday, while attending a game at Citizens Bank Park, he "kind of thought maybe."

He said he did not begin to feel positive until the potential spoilers - the Mets - were losing, 4-0, in their game Sunday against the Marlins. "Seven-nothing and I was feeling a little bit better," he said.

Winberry may be supportive, but he is staying cautious.

"I'm looking to see who comes out between San Diego and Colorado," he said. "It's going to be a tough one."

Barach, for her part, believes ultimate victory is achievable, although she also had reservations about one highly paid but underperforming pitcher.

"I think, if we can rotate our pitchers so we don't have Eaton pitching and if we can keep the offensive playing we've had, I'll think we'll be OK," said Barach, a fan since 1958. "I hope so."

And hope certainly was in the air as Kalas led the crowd in "High Hopes" at the end of what shortstop Jimmy Rollins vowed would be only the first party of the Phillies' postseason journey.

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