10/23/07 10:30 PM ET
Sox, Rox ready to write new chapter
Baseball's 103rd championship carries familiar theme
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
That was the first one. The 103rd can begin now. Baseball and its showcase event are stronger than ever, possibly immortal, likely to outlast all of us. So enjoy it while you can. The game's league-vs.-league playoff returns when Josh Beckett throws the first pitch at 8:35 p.m. ET on Wednesday, and this time that same Boston club will face a National League team wanting to show it is worthy.The Rockies play the part of those Americans now. They come in from Denver with one of the most impressive stretches of excellence in the game's history, having won 21 of their last 22, and yet as underdog as you can be. A Boston newspaper publishes a page explaining to New England who these visitors are. Vegas makes the Red Sox a 2-to-1 favorite. Rockies players embrace their underdog role as the clubhouse opens for interviews and curiosities are roused everywhere. "It's so great for the team not to have that monkey on its back," Red Sox owner John Henry said next to the batting cage on Tuesday. "We carried that in the past, always that unluckiness. This year has been much more enjoyable than 2004. That was suffering, until the last out, for fans and management. We wanted it so badly. There was always this feeling that something bad would happen." That is how people are talking throughout Red Sox Nation, and Henry is not in any way dismissing the Rockies when he says that. In fact, most of what he said in a conversation with reporters paid tribute to what Colorado has done, sounding almost like his long-ago predecessor Killelea, just wanting to see a series decide who's best. "I haven't heard anyone say it's going to be easy, or relatively easy at all," Henry said, speaking on his club's behalf. "They've won 21 of 22? That's a remarkable team. And those are pressure games. It's going to be a tough series. People thought that about Cleveland, and look what we had to do in that series. [The Rockies] earned their spot in the World Series. I don't think there's a better team in baseball right now than the Rockies. You can't win 21 of 22 without being the best team at that time."
Troy Tulowitzki said he doesn't care what people think of the NL Wild Card. He is a rookie with a game beyond his years, seemingly unfazed by anything that an institution of favorites and underdogs can throw his way. He and his teammates have been waiting a long time for this, literally and figuratively. The Rockies are so good that they will have waited nearly 10 days to start this series, having swept the Phillies in three and the D-backs in four. They just don't care what you think, and they are saying the same thing that world champs like the 2003 Marlins or the 2006 Cardinals have said often."It really doesn't matter," the rookie shortstop said while dressing before BP. "Hopefully we're the underdogs. That's OK. We'll take that." One of the reporters asked "Tulo" if the Rockies might become "America's Team." "I hope so," he said. "I welcome all of America to root for us and get behind us." An International flavor World Series. It is as big as the name of the event sounds. If you don't believe that, then talk to Takashi Settai. He is deputy editor of the sports news department for Tokyo-based Nikkei, and the country of Japan is ready for this World Series like never before. They will be pulling for Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, pitchers for the Red Sox. They will be pulling for Rockies second baseman Kaz Matsui, who overcame obstacles and emerged as an integral force in the team's amazing autumn. There never has been this kind of high-profile representation in the Fall Classic. "There is probably much more attention paid to this World Series than before," Settai said in the Fenway Park press box. "It's the first time for us to see Japanese players on both teams fighting for the championship. Last year, So Taguchi was there for the Cardinals, and before that [Tadahito] Iguchi with the White Sox, So again in 2004, and Hideki Matsui with the Yankees in 2003. You can't say which team they're rooting for now. "They know Kaz as a struggling story; he was with the Mets, traded to Colorado, kind of survived last year, and this year did very well. Everybody in Japan knows that story. Dice-K is a huge prospect from Japanese baseball. Young, talented, many people think he can pitch well in the World Series. A lot of people are rooting for him and Okajima." Matsuzaka and Matsui were teammates for five years on the Seibu Lions of the Japanese league. Settai noted that they spent a long time on workout day catching up, along with the former chief trainer of the Lions. And just to show how important is has now become to understand the Japanese perspective of Major League Baseball, it may surprise you to know that when Matsuzaka got the win after his five innings of work on Sunday night -- Boston's Game 7 clincher against Cleveland -- it marked the first victorious decision by a pitcher from Japan in MLB postseason history. "He was beaten up so heavily at the time, I had never seen him like that," Settai said of how Matsuzaka reacted following his Game 3 ALCS loss at Cleveland, when he sat in front of his locker for an hour. "I had never seen him act like that. In Game 7, his pitch count was only 88 when he was taken out. Everybody saw him struggling as well in the fourth or fifth innings, but the result was the first win for a Japanese starter. Now many people want to see how he will do in the World Series." Go the distance The 103rd World Series. It has been there every fall, save for the 1904 refusal by the New York Giants to recognize the AL's prowess and for the 1994 labor standoff. In all that time, there have been only two occasions when five consecutive Fall Classics did not go seven games. There was 1913-1918, the longest such streak; Babe Ruth and the Red Sox accounted for half of those series blowouts, in 1915-16 and 1918. There was 1935-39, five straight World Series won in a rout, the last four by Joltin' Joe DiMaggio and the Yankees. Is this modern stretch about to take its place in history?
|"I don't think there's a better team in baseball right now than the Rockies. You can't win 21 of 22 without being the best team at that time."|
|-- Red Sox owner John Henry|
The most popular issue surrounding workout day was the rest factor. Most people are tired of reading and hearing about it by now. The Rockies are tired of talking about it. In fact, they are tired of resting. They are wrapping up the longest layoff preceding any World Series, and second in postseason delays only to the 10 days of suspended play between Games 2 and 3 of the 1989 World Series, due to the Loma Prieta earthquake in the Bay Area. From finish time of the NLCS clincher to start time of this World Series opener, the delay is almost exactly the same in total time as that 1989 layoff."I don't think there's a lot of us who are worried about it in here," said Jeff Francis, who will start Game 1 for the Rockies on eight days' rest. "I think, yeah, we've had time off, but if you think about it, it's probably a good time of year to have some time off. You talk to a lot of guys in there, it's nice to be relaxed and take care of things that need to be taken care of before a World Series." Someone needs to take care of the weather. Rain is in the Boston forecast from morning to night on Wednesday. According to The Weather Channel, the forecast conveniently drops from 50 percent (showers) to 30 percent (few showers) in time for batting practice, holding steady like that until 10 p.m. ET, when it is listed at 40 percent (showers), and then up to 50 percent at 11 p.m. In other words, it might be a stroke of luck if rain doesn't affect Game 1 in some way. By 1911, the World's Series was so popular that baseball truly had become a national pastime. It was far more than a postseason exhibition now. The Philadelphia Athletics had a 2-1 series lead when the skies opened and forgot to close, leading to a rain delay that lasted a full week. Christy Mathewson then was beaten by the A's Chief Bender, and Philly then proceeded to clinch its second consecutive title. Ever since then, the World Series has been the great unexpected. It certainly has been the case in the most recent years. If the Red Sox are a huge favorite, then based on recent trends, one could almost argue with certainty that the Rockies will win their first title. But that is why they play the games, and just to be sure it is scientific, they play them until someone has won four. It paved the way for today's NBA and NHL formats, and it is just so much more definitive than a one-night Super Bowl or a bowl-game format. There is nothing quite like the World Series. Play ball
Let the 103rd now begin. Carl Yastrzemski, who played in an electric seven-game World Series against St. Louis 40 years ago, the year he won baseball's last Triple Crown, will induce the first massive roar when he returns to throw out the first pitch before Game 1. The Boston Pops will play the Star-Spangled Banner. Ashanti will sing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch."To get to the World Series is as much as you can ask for," Henry said. "For players, anyone, it's being a part of the World Series that's the biggest deal. It's hard to get into a World Series. Look at that year Seattle had [116 wins in 2001]. Did they get to the World Series? [No.] Eight teams make it to the playoffs. If we make the playoffs, we have a 12 1/2-percent chance of winning the World Series. "Making it in, you feel a great sense of relief." The world championship can now be decided, just the way it was originally meant to be.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.