IT WAS A pleasure driving to the ballpark yesterday.

No rain was in sight and the Phillies were three innings from potentially winning the World


Walk with us as we take in the sights and sounds of an unprecedented day:

3:15 p.m. Pulled into the parking lot across from the third-base entrance of Citizens Bank Park. My 1999 Dodge stood out among the SUVs and Lexuses. Can definitely see a group of

rowdies celebrating in the back of the pickup. Enjoy yourselves, fellas. Just don't wreck anything, and leave a beer behind.

3:17: Growing up a Mike Schmidt homer away from the Vet, walking into an empty stadium on game day will never get old. Gates are still 2 hours away from being opened, and the only ones stirring are workers trying to make things just right.

3:20: Check e-mail and flights to Tampa, just in case. There's not much.

4:15: Run into Tina Curtain, a friend from Second Street, who is preparing her beer stand

behind home plate for the


4:35: Charlie Manuel starts his pregame news conference by

announcing that he will send in

a pinch-hitter for Cole Hamels and that Ryan Madson will be his pitcher to start the seventh. Technicalities aside, it is Madson's first start since July 30, 2006.

4:49: Brett Myers calls Charlie Manuel a "father figure." It was nice to hear, especially in light of their heated exchange in August, when Manuel yanked the starter from a game.

5:03: Rays manager Joe Maddon, an avid rock fan, expresses his regret at not catching up with George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers during the team's stay at the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington.

5:08: Maddon calls the circumstances surrounding Monday night's game "kinda freaky." He later says that, win or lose, he will not complain about the situation, because "there's no crying in baseball."

5:20: On the main concourse, two small flatbeds are whizzing around delivering game programs. With gates opening in

10 minutes, it's easy to understand the urgency.

5:22: Run into a fan trying his best to blend in as a worker. Seems he somehow snuck in and was sweating out being spotted. Says he spent a half-hour in the men's room and was angry he didn't have the good sense to bring a Daily News.

5:55: Pat Burrell cracks the first home run of batting practice. It's about 40 degrees, and the ball isn't carrying.

6:09: Run into scalpers who

lament that there are not many tickets around. "People probably took them on the plane [back to Tampa]," says one. His co-worker asks the Daily News to point out that scalpers are not bad

people trying to rip off fans. He's right. They're good people trying to rip off fans - especially those passing counterfeit tickets.

6:12: Chris Eagle, a Ridley

native living in San Francisco, is not happy with the commissioner. He holds a Bud Selig sign with the B and S highlighted.

6:15: Season-ticketholder Jean Smith gets a rally towel upon

entering the ballpark. "I could paper my walls with these," she says.

6:16: Across the street at the Wachovia Center, Thaddeus Young hits a three for the 76ers' first points of the season.

6:36: Phillies finish batting practice.

7:15: Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" comes on again over the PA.

Given the Philliles' position, it's hard not to chuckle at the ending lyric: "But that was when I ruled the world."

7:25: Tampa Bay finishes batting practice.

7:49: Journey's "Don't Stop

Believing" blares over the stadium speakers. Hope tonight ends better than "The Sopranos."

8:22: Dan Baker announces the lineups and finishes with "No. 35, pitcher Cole Hamels." The place goes nuts, even though everyone knows Hamels will not play.

8:26: "God Bless America" is performed by Petty Officer 1st Class Dorcus Whigham before the game resumes, and in lieu of the seventh-inning stretch. Impressively, the place is packed. There are a few seats here and there, but not many.

8:30: The Barack Obama campaign infomercial has ended. He seems like a decent dude, but that's no way to lead in to the biggest Phillies game in 28 years.

8:37: The visiting Rays take the field. It's an odd sight, for sure.

8:40: After a 46-hour rain

delay, Rays lefty Grant Balfour starts pinch-hitter Geoff Jenkins with a fastball that misses.

8:42: Jenkins smacks a 3-2 fastball into right-center for a double.

8:43: After a Jimmy Rollins sacrifice bunt, Jayson Werth bloops a single that scores

Jenkins and gives the Phillies a 3-2 lead. Colleague Dick Jerardi points out that it sounds like an Eagles game in here.

8:59: Rocco Baldelli drills a homer off Ryan Madson to tie the score.

9:07: Chase Utley throws Jason Bartlett out at home to end the top of the seventh. We've played one very eventful full inning. Time for the seventh-inning stretch.

9:10: Pat Burrell doubles just below the Manny Ramirez railing. Chad Bradford comes in to relieve J.P. Howell, giving us five pitchers for the six outs we've seen.

9:19: Phils get the lead again (4-3) on Pedro Feliz' clutch single up the middle. Is this a baseball game or a roller coaster?

9:29: After lefthander Carl Crawford singled off lefty J.C. Romero, righthander B.J. Upton grounds into a doubleplay. The baseball gods are having a lot of fun with this one. Nothing makes sense.

9:32: Baseball media relations people hand out the procedures for postgame access. "If the Phillies win, there will be an on-field ceremony approximately 10 minutes after the last out." Is the city's championship drought

really going to end?

9:45: Sixty-five minutes after we started, Brad Lidge is coming in to try to convert his 48th save. Yogi Berra was right. It does get late early around here.

9:56: Lefthander Eric Hinske will pinch-hit with two outs. Hinske is on the World Series roster only because Cliff Floyd got hurt.

9:58: Lidge strikes out Hinske. It's over. It's really over. Lidge gets the final out. Now it's

Washington's turn to wear the 800-pound gorilla. No team from D.C. has won a championship since 1991. Feels nice, doesn't it? *

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