Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Stars align for a classic Series; key story lines in matchup

Ryan Howard, left, hit 45 home runs this season, sparking a Phillies attack that topped the National League in homers (224) and runs (820). Alex Rodriguez, who led a Yankees lineup that hit a big-league high 244 home runs this year, has five homers and 12 RBI this postseason.

NEW YORK — The New York Yankees have not appeared in the World Series in six years, and although they are a polarizing force, there is no denying they bring out the best in baseball's showcase event. The last true classic was in 2001, when it took seven games for the Arizona Diamondbacks to beat, yup, the Yankees. The last closely contested Series was in 2002, when the Los Angeles Angels overcame the San Francisco Giants in seven games. No Series has reached six games since 2003.
This time, with the Yankees taking on thePhiladelphia Phillies, could be oh, so different. These East Coast bluebloods, separated by 98 miles, represent the best and worst in sports.
The Yankees would love to christen their new $1.5 billion palace with a 27th title and first since 2000. The defending champion Phillies, with more defeats than any other sports franchise, would love to validate their recent success with another Broad Street parade.
"I think it's going to be wonderful," Commissioner Bud Seligsays. "There's a lot of history. A lot of tradition. And a lot of stars."
This is the first World Series matchup between the teams since 1950 — when Selig listened to games on his transistor radio in high school. It's the first matchup since 1926 between teams that led their leagues in home runs. And when CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee face off today, it will be the second meeting of former Cy Young Award winners in Game 1.
"I think this is the World Series everyone wanted," Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins says. "You have a little of everything."
You want stars? There are 20 All-Stars (including Ryan Howard, who led the Phillies with 45 home runs), three MVPs (including Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez) and three Cy Young winners. You want history? The teams are traveling by train, just as in the old days. You want memorable? Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher says don't worry: "This is going to be unbelievable."
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins predicts the Phillies will win the World Series in five games.

World-class talent, monumental matchup
Two heavy hitters in this matchup come from different baseball backgrounds and have different postseason reputations. Now they are linked on baseball's biggest stage, hoping to add another chapter to their legacies.
Ryan Howard, 29, spent five years in the minors before getting a chance to play every day in the majors. He's making up for lost time, hitting at least 45 homers in four consecutive years and becoming a postseason force. He is hitting .355 with two homers and 14 RBI this postseason and has driven in at least one run in a record-tying eight consecutive playoff games. "It's phenomenal," New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez says. "I don't remember the last time I've seen a great, great slugger become such a great hitter in three years. ... He's very dangerous."
The only man hotter is Rodriguez, 34, in his first Series after 2,166 regular-season games. He symbolized the New York Yankees' postseason failures, batting .159 with one homer and one RBI in the last three postseasons. This year, he's hitting .438 with five homers, 12 RBI and a .969 slugging percentage. His three tying homers — all in the seventh inning or later — are the most by any player in postseason play, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
"Both of us, it seems, are so much more relaxed," Howard says. "I've been having fun. Looks like he is, too."

Jeter: New York's rock; Rollins: Philly's brash soul
Derek Jeter and Jimmy Rollins stir the passion of their teams, doing it in contrasting styles.
The New York Yankees started a dynasty when Jeter arrived as their starting shortstop in 1996. Jeter is their captain but prefers to do his talking on the field. He professes he doesn't read the newspapers, let alone contribute to the back-page headlines.
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter in his 15th season, is going for his fifth World Series title.
Rollins would fit perfectly in New York. He loves the spotlight and, oh, can he make the headlines.
Rollins, who predicted in 2007 that the Philadelphia Phillies would win the National League East, has taken it a step further this year. He told Playboy magazine this spring that the Phillies and Yankees would meet in the World Series. Then, Monday night on The Jay Leno Show, he predicted a Phillies championship. "Of course, we're going to win," Rollins said. "If we're nice, we'll let it go six. But I'm thinking five, close it out at home."
Jeter rolled his eyes and noted if someone makes enough predictions, they'll be right eventually.
"I like his personality," says Jeter, who played with Rollins in the World Baseball Classic this year. "Jimmy enjoys playing the game. He asked a lot of questions. He was very inquisitive. I like that.
"I gave him some advice, but not too much."
Rollins, 30, five years younger than Jeter, says he tries to emulate Jeter, whom he calls one of the greatest role models in sports.
"You know what he means to baseball," Rollins says, "and he's a great guy on top of that. He's even had me at a couple of his parties. Come on, you can't get better than that."
Game 1 aces come from same Tribe
They were teammates 15 months ago, trying to get the Cleveland Indians into the World Series. Now, CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee are there for the first time, only without Cleveland.
The pitchers, who won back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2007-08, will face off today. It'll be the second time two Cy Young winners started Game 1 (the other was Orel Hershiser and Greg Maddux in 1995) and the first former teammates since Roger Clemens and Jose Contreras in 2005.
"It's going to be a lot of fun, but it's weird," Sabathia says.
They have remained close friends, often texting each other. Lately, they have been sending congratulatory messages as each has dominated in the postseason. Sabathia, the MVP of the American League Championship Series, is 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA. Lee is 2-0 with a 0.74 ERA.
"I've been pulling for him," Lee says. "He's a class act."
They faced each other April 16 when Lee still was with Cleveland. Lee and the Indians won 10-2. They went to Sabathia's house afterward for dinner. "We'll probably do the same thing," Sabathia says. "We're close. That won't change."
Managers lead way with different styles
Joe Girardi and Charlie Manuel are opposites.
Girardi is the New York Yankees manager, but he uses data and studies statistical data as though he is a graduate student at M.I.T.
Manuel is a good ol' boy from Virginia, and as Philadelphia Phillies manager he will look at numbers to just wad them up and throw into the nearest trash can. He might come across as a country bumpkin, but he actually is a baseball savant.
"He's a funny guy, with funny things to say, and says them in a funny way, too," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. says. "He's not always going to go with what the numbers say and the matchups, but, hey, he's had a lot of success doing it his way."
Girardi, in his second year as manager, has found success after being under pressure to win following last year's first non-playoff season since 1994.
But he feels the pressure, as recently as the American League Championship Series vs. the Los Angeles Angels, when he was criticized for micromanaging by the news media and sports talk shows. "You're always under a microscope, and you understand that being here. As a player, you can get second-guessed a little bit. As a manager, when things don't work out, you're going to be second-guessed a lot." he says.
Restoring pride is ultimate prize
Only a World Series championship will validate the season for the New York Yankees or Philadelphia Phillies, so somebody is going to have a long winter.
"Our goal every year is to win the World Series, not just get there," says Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who last played in the Fall Classic in 2003, losing to the Florida Marlins. "That's the way it's always been here."
It's also why Jeter conceded Tuesday that he hasn't watched a World Series game since 2003.
"You feel like a little kid when your parents won't let you go out and play," Jeter says. "I didn't want to look out the window.
"It kind of gives you a sinking feeling."
The Phillies, who have won 18 of their last 23 postseason games, say it is about pride. They are trying to become the third National League team since 1922 to win back-to-back titles. For the only sports franchise with 10,000 defeats, knocking off the Yankees, with the most all-time wins in baseball, would also help shed its inferiority complex.
"We're in Philly, bro," Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins says. "You don't get respect here, not when New York is 90 miles away. They got 26 World Series championships. We got two.
"Everybody knows about the Yankees. Everybody knows about Boston. We want that here. When people refer to Philadelphia, we want them to talk about not just a team that was the first to lose 10,000, but the team that was able to play with the best of their time."