New York expects 'a battle' as Philadelphia seeks repeat
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
George Steinbrenner is Bronx-bound. So are the Philadelphia Phillies, for Wednesday night's start of the 105th World Series.
In 1950, they were the Whiz Kids. Fifty-nine years later, the Phillies return to take on the Yankees in another World Series as the Gee-Whiz Men, bent on squaring the historical ledger by defending their title.
All season, Dodgers billboards declared "This Is Our Town." As it turned out, neither they nor the Angels had the deed. The Phillies and the Yankees owned Los Angeles -- although the latter had a bit tougher time proving it in the probate court of the American League Championship Series -- and now they lock bumpers in the Turnpike Series.
"It's going to be a battle, a fight," promised CC Sabathia, the ALCS MVP and New York's Game 1 starter against fellow left-hander -- and former Cleveland mound-mate -- Cliff Lee.
The 127-year-old Phillies are in their seventh World Series, seeking their third title and second straight to become only the third National League team to repeat, the first since the 1975-76 Reds.
"What we did last year, that was something special," said Philadelphia's NLCS MVP, Ryan Howard. "But to get back to this point, to have the opportunity to do it two years in a row, that's even more special."
The Phillies, in fact, are the first defending NL champs to even make it back to the Classic in years, since the 1996 Braves, who lost to the Yankees one October after beating Cleveland.
Two in a row is "the only way you can really be remembered for being great," in Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins' estimation.
The 109-year-old Yankees are in their 40th World Series, seeking their 27th title and first since 2000.
It may be old hat to the American League's premier franchise, but not to its premier player, Alex Rodriguez, who after 16 seasons, 2,166 games and 583 home runs will finally make his first World Series appearance.
"I've dreamt about this since I was a child," A-Rod said after his eighth postseason team finally reached the summit. "To win it, you have to get there first, and I couldn't be happier."
In baseball's classless society, the two teams are equals. Maybe in everything but idle time. By making quick work of the Dodgers, the Phillies had a week to kill between games. Pushed to six games by the Angels, the Yankees have only a two-day break.
Short rest vs. long rest in the World Series
For the eighth time in history, the World Series will feature teams whose pre-Game 1 layoffs will have differed by three-plus days, as a result of the length of their LCS. The team on short rest has won four of the previous seven such Classics.
2008: Phillies (6 days between games) over Rays (2)
2007: Red Sox (2) over Rockies (8)
2006: Cardinals (2) over Tigers (6)
1995: Braves (6) over Indians (3)
1991: Twins (5) over Braves (1)
1988: Dodgers (2) over A's (5)
1981: Dodgers (0) over Yankees (4)
Significant? History's answer is no. The Phils had a similar wait problem last year, after also ousting the Dodgers in five while Tampa Bay went seven games with Boston, and defeated the Rays. And in the 2007 World Series, the Red Sox, after only two off-days, swept the Rockies, who had an eight-day rest. All told, four of seven Series between teams with a rest differential of three-plus days have been won by teams on short rest.
This Fall Classic reunion generations in the making certainly arrives through a time warp.
In 1950, the Yankees were the defending World Series champs -- and swept out the Phils for the second of their still-record five straight titles.
Then, the 59 years between meetings is the longest wait for a Classic rematch (and will remain so, until the Red Sox and the Pirates, opponents in the very first modern World Series in 1903, get around to meeting again).
As a final historical note, those 1950 Phillies were defined by pioneer closer Jim Konstanty -- the bespectacled reliever whose 22 saves at the time were the second-most in history -- pretty much the way unflappable Mariano Rivera comes closest to defining this era's Yankees.
So much for history. Because there is so much to these teams' presents and presence, two heavy-handed, strong-armed, ice-blooded teams who could pass in front of a window and mistake it for a mirror.
To former Yankees manager and latest Phillies victim Joe Torre, the chief parallel between them is that look in their eyes.
"As far as the similarities between the Philly club and the Yankees, there's a lot of fearlessness," Torre said.
They've punched out entire divisions and two playoff foes to step into the diamond ring against each other. If the World Series had a promoter, it would have to be Don King, bringing us The Thrilla in Philadelphia.
Of course, the teams haven't really waited 59 years to meet again, only five months, since the Phillies took two games of a three-game Interleague series in Yankee Stadium on May 22-24.
That precedent gives little insight into what will ensue. While in those games the Yankees did start their World Series rotation -- A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte (who started their lone win) and CC Sabathia -- the Phillies were "sandbagging."
Cole Hamels did start, and got the best of Sabathia, but the other two games were started by a pitcher who may continue his inactive postseason (Brett Myers) and another likely to be in the bullpen (J.A. Happ).
On the other hand, the dozen homers smashed in those games by the teams could be a harbinger of the mashing to come.
The Phillies and the Yankees, designated "natural geographic rivals" at the outset of Interleague Play, met each season between 1997-2001. Overall, the Yankees lead, 11 games to 10.
Due to the vagaries of Interleague scheduling, this will be the fifth World Series rematch between regular-season opponents, and three of the first four yielded reverse outcomes. Only the 2000 Yankees prevailed over the Mets, after having taken four of six summer Subway Series games from them.
In 2007, the Red Sox swept the Rockies after having gone 1-2 against them, in 2006 the Cardinals won in five over a Detroit team that had swept them in a three-game series, and in 1999 the Yankees swept Atlanta after the Braves had taken two out of three in July.
Hamels, who in fact may not get to do so unless the Series returns to the Bronx for Games 6 and 7, said, "I think everybody has dreamed of playing in Yankee Stadium in the World Series."
And in the intoxicating first few minutes after the Phillies had earned their return to the World Series, one of their fans said, "I want to play the Yankees. A win over the Yankees would validate how good a team this is."
Dream realized. Wish granted. Validation or repudiation? The stage is set.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Change for a Nickel. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.