PHILADELPHIA — Another exciting, come-from-behind win for the Philadelphia Phillies and Dave Raymond is bummed.
"Not to brag, but for the last few years, I used to hear all the time, 'You're the only reason we come to a game,"' says Raymond, a.k.a. the Phillie Phanatic.
"This year, I've heard a few fans say, 'Hey, get the heck out of the way, I'm trying to watch the game,"' he says. "Something, huh?"
Not since Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton and Pete Rose still played for the Phillies has there been this much excitement in town. Attendance is already up 200,000, and the talk-show hosts and callers -- the same ones who blasted team management all winter for failing to sign any top free agents -- are counting the days until the World Series.
Every home run at Veterans Stadium is saluted with a curtain call, even when the hometown heroes seem embarrassed to take them. Booing is at an all-time low, usually reserved just for shaky shortstop Juan Bell.
All over the city, the Phillies are appearing on television and radio ads, showing up at card shows and being asked for autographs. And the phones, they never stop ringing at the players' homes.
"Life is all about winning," star center fielder Lenny Dykstra. "When you're winning, everyone wants a part of you. That's just normal."
The Phillies are winning more than anyone, and The Philadelphia Story has become the biggest story in baseball.
The Phillies, the team that has not had a winning season since 1986 and has not won a division title since 1983, went into a weekend series at Colorado with a 31-14 record. The last time they started so well was when Grover Cleveland Alexander pitched them to their first pennant in 1915.
They have not lost more than two games in a row all season. They have won all but two series. They're 6-0 in extra innings.
Their starting rotation of Terry Mulholland, Tommy Greene, Curt Schilling, Danny Jackson and Ben Rivera, all acquired in astute trades by general manager Lee Thomas, is the strongest in the majors so far.
"All five of us are exactly the same," Schilling said. "We're the Drifters. We all drifted in here at the right point in our careers."
Relief ace Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams is getting the ball over the plate, for once.
"He doesn't have ulcers," said manager Jim Fregosi, who often retreats to a dugout tunnel to smoke cigarettes when Williams is weaving in and out of trouble. "But he's one of the biggest carriers."
All this after a season in which the Phillies went 70-92 and did not make any major moves. That was the third time in the last five years that the Phillies finished last in the NL East, a span in which they've averaged 90 losses
These days, though, all of the new-found success is not so apparent in the locker room.
Even after victories, the clubhouse is uncommonly quiet. There is no loud music and postgame comments are punctuated with words of caution.
"We all know there's a lot of season left," Schilling said. "Now is no time to be celebrating."
When their division lead recently reached 6 1-2 games over Montreal, some of the players were quick to point out the significance of that figure.
That number -- 6 1-2 -- is probably the most known and most painful in Philadelphia sports history; in 1964, the Phillies led the league by 6 1-2 games with 12 left to play, but went on a 10-game losing streak and lost the pennant to St. Louis.
So when these Phillies took that lead, even players who were not born in 1964 knew that it meant no guarantee. But former reliever Tug McGraw, who struck out Kansas City's Willie Wilson for the final out that clinched the Phillies' only World Series championship in 1980, has another theory.
"Many of these guys have been here for the last few years, back when it was really bad. Everyone was on them, wherever they went," said McGraw, a local TV reporter. "Now that they're playing well, I'm not so sure that they want to let everyone jump on the bandwagon so easily."
"Don't forget, there's a tremendous history of baseball here, but it's not a winning history," he said. "This city has been disappointed before. It definitely wants a winning sports team."
So while the Spectrum, home of the 76ers and the Flyers, sits empty across the street while the NBA and NHL playoffs go on, Veterans Stadium has become the place to be. Each day, it becomes more entertaining.
Every night during the last homestand, a prospective groom was shown live in the stands, proposing to his would-be bride. The stadium organ helped out with wedding bells and a chorus of the wedding march.
The fans are in love with the team, too.
Philadelphia rooters always have liked blue-collar players, guys who are more like Rocky than Robin Leach. With Dykstra, Williams, John Kruk, Darren Daulton, Dave Hollins, this club makes a nice match its crowd.
"We've got a good mix on the team," Kruk said. "There are a bunch of idiots here, basically."