ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The team of 10,000 losses won the 100th game of its magical season Wednesday night, and it was a thriller.
Phillies 3, Tampa Bay Rays 2.
One win down, three to go before Philadelphia's first major sports championship in a quarter-century.
Can you take three more of these?
The Phillies' first World Series game in 15 years was preceded by six off days, enough time for anxiety to build a comfy nest in the guts of players as well as fans.
Would the layoff take the Phillies out of the rhythm that saw them win seven of nine playoff games? Would the Rays, survivors of a tumultuous seven-game series against the Boston Red Sox, ride momentum and home-field advantage to a quick lead?
What was the deal with those rubber ducks, anyway?
Chase Utley, whose comment to manager Charlie Manuel led to the distribution of those mysterious ducks, delivered a quick answer in his very first at-bat. Utley's two-run home run off Rays starter Scott Kazmir dispelled worries about rust and instantly flipped the momentum in the Phillies' favor.
Just a day earlier, Utley had acknowledged that the layoff was a concern.
"In a perfect world," Utley said, "you'd want to play a day or two after (winning the pennant). It's not a perfect world."
The Backstreet Boys proved that with their showy version of the national anthem before the game. But Utley put a perfect swing on Kazmir's 2-2 pitch, driving it into the seats behind right field.
Jayson Werth, who had drawn a walk off the wobbly Kazmir, pumped his fist as he rounded second base, and the Phillies were on the board before ace lefthander Cole Hamels ever took the mound.
Fittingly, the Phillies' two Cali-cool stars - Utley and Hamels - showed up calm and composed amid the cowbell din and airless atmosphere of the hideous Tropicana Field.
Hamels, winner of the MVP trophy for the National League championship series, delivered his fourth stellar postseason performance, shackling a Rays lineup that had marauded through the Red Sox pitching staff during the AL championship series.
Hamels allowed just two runs, including a towering solo homer by Carl Crawford, in his seven innings. He was nearly flawless, and he had to be. Other than Utley's homer, the Phillies managed to scratch out just one more run. They had plenty of chances, filling the pond with ducks (so to speak) but stranding nine of them through eight innings.
Four times, the Phillies had a runner on third with one out and failed to bring him home. Shane Victorino was thrown out at home trying to score on a shallow fly ball by Jimmy Rollins in the second inning.
Squandering that many chances means asking for trouble, especially in the every-pitch-matters World Series. The Phillies asked, but Hamels and relievers Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge were there to provide the answers.
And so the Phillies ultimately fulfilled the preseason prophecy of Rollins, their all-star shortstop and all-world oracle. The man who declared the Phillies the "team to beat" in their breakthrough season of 2007 went a step further this time. He said the Phillies would win 100 games.
They won 92 in the regular season.
Thanks to Utley and Hamels, they reached 100.
Three more to go. Can you take it?
Let's just say the Phillies have all their ducks in a row.