THE BILL that was supposed to go in the mail yesterday goes on top of the pile, above the ones that can be put off for a couple more weeks. Laundry doesn't become a real priority until that retro Penguins sweater is your only choice. And does anybody really renew their magazine subscription before at least the third LAST AND FINAL! warning hits the mailbox?

It's just human nature. Urgent and pressing trumps the big picture every time.

The Phillies won their third straight National League East championship last night. Their 10-3 win over the Astros may have been a little redundant since it concluded moments after they technically clinched with the Marlins' win in Atlanta. Nobody complained. They responded with well-practiced glee. The race to meet in the middle of the field. The fireworks. The pulling on of commemorative hats and T-shirts. The spilling of beer and spraying of champagne that is an integral part of the obligatory post-clinch clubhouse hilarity.

Almost immediately, though, the nagging thoughts demanded to be heard. There are questions. There are concerns. There are issues that can suck the joy from the party before it even gets started.

Questions about the offense and who the Phillies will meet in the first round, concerns about the inconsistency of the starting pitchers and which team will grab home-field advantage. Not to mention the whole issue of the bullpen.

(One thing scouts who come in to preview possible playoff opponents are always asked is how the opposing manager deploys his relievers. Suggested answer for anybody bird-dogging the Phillies: Let you know once Charlie Manuel figures it out.)

This is all perfectly understandable. It's also kind of a shame. Let's not forget that sports are supposed to be fun.

With that in mind, here's a simple thought: What if we were experiencing the golden age for a Philadelphia baseball fan, no matter what happens after the National League playoffs begin on Wednesday?

Just think about it for a moment.

This is only the second time in franchise history that the Phillies have finished first in back-to-back-back years. This run has already resulted in a world championship. The other, under Danny Ozark from 1976-78, didn't include a trip to the World Series.

This is also their seventh consecutive winning season. The only longer streak of being above .500 was 9 years, from 1975-83. That netted two World Series appearances and one trophy. Gene Mauch's 1962-67 clubs also strung together winning seasons but that included no postseason appearances and one very memorable collapse.

It goes beyond just winning, though. The Phillies will end this season having played to nearly 100 percent capacity at Citizens Bank Park. They've surpassed over 3 million in home attendance in all but two of the last six seasons.

The four most recognizable former Phillies are Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn. Schmidt and Carlton were teammates. Roberts and Ashburn were teammates.

The current Phillies lineup features a trio of stars - shortstop Jimmy Rollins, second baseman Chase Utley and first baseman Ryan Howard - each generally conceded to be the best in franchise history at his position. Plus a homegrown lefthander, Cole Hamels, who has the tools to be one of the dominant pitchers of his generation.

All things considered, you'd probably have to go back to Connie Mack's Athletics to find a better era. The A's went to the World Series in 1929, 1930 and 1931, winning twice. That was part of a span during which they had nine straight winning seasons . . . then finished last for 7 years in a row. Mack's White Elephants went 3-1 in the Fall Classic from 1910-14 . . . then lost 100 games in 5 of 7 years.

This Phillies club has a chance, at least, to add to the credentials it has already established. The core players are still in their primes. The team controls their contracts for at least two more seasons. Night after night of sellouts supports a high payroll. There are no guarantees - injuries can ravage even the most well-stocked roster and slumps can materialize without warning - but they appear well-positioned to compete for at least a little while longer.

Which, honestly, is what most teams aspire to these days: Make the playoffs and hope to get hot at the right time. It's the formula that the Phillies used to capture just the second world championship in their history last October. Which, by itself, is a clue that we're witnessing something rare in these parts.

Feel better? Good. OK, then . . .

Holy cow, Pedro didn't look very good last night. Manuel should never have let him throw 130 pitches against the Mets. Looks like they'll be playing the Rockies in the first round. Probably should start Happ against them, anyway. Unless they need another lefthander in relief. Geez, the bullpen really has a chance to cost them before it's all over. It would be great if Myers gets a chance to show something before the end of the season. Not too sure Romero is completely healthy, though. They still rely too much on homers. They strike out too much. Utley better start hitting. Hamels and Lee have been inconsistent lately. They better hope the Dodgers beat the Cardinals. And, oh no, just realized that . . .

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