10/31/09 12:56 AM EST
Fantastic Fall Classic back in Philly
Defending champs' fans hope to celebrate once again
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
It's left-hander Andy Pettitte, the winningest pitcher in postseason history, starting for the visitors against left-hander Cole Hamels, last year's unbeatable postseason ace who tries to regain that same form in making the start for the defending champions.
It's Yankees vs. Phillies again, for the many who can't seem to get enough of it.
They pick up at 7:57 p.m. ET today where they left off on Thursday, only a mere 108 miles south for Games 3, 4 and 5. This has become a marquee Fall Classic that seems to have captured the imagination of nearly everyone. The 105th World Series is being watched by a massive worldwide audience that has sent TV ratings skyrocketing as the seventh calendar month of this season concludes and gives way to the unusual greeting of November.
Will Alex Rodriguez -- 0-for-8 with six strikeouts -- snap right back into his dominating ways of the first two playoff rounds? Will Ryan Howard -- 2-for-9 with six strikeouts -- do the same? Howard was 2-for-9 with four strikeouts after the first two games of the last World Series against Tampa Bay, only to homer once in Game 3 and twice in Game 4 -- leading the Phillies toward their championship.
Will Derek Jeter, who hit that unforgettable homer against Arizona to win the only other game that started on Oct. 31, have another chance to step up to the plate after the stroke of midnight and fortify his reputation as the only Mr. November?
Will Brad Lidge get a save opportunity for the Phillies? Will he be the Lidge who was so unpredictable in the regular season or the one who has been so sturdy this postseason? Will Philadelphia go on to duplicate its pattern of 2008, when the club won Game 1 and lost Game 2 -- both on the road -- and then came home to sweep three and claim the World Series title? Will the Phillies ever have an answer for Mariano Rivera's ageless cutter?
Will pitching continue to dominate in this World Series? All four starting pitchers to date have been outstanding. There have been four home runs, two by each club, and all four of them solo shots -- and these are prolific power-hitting clubs.
Weight of the World
|Division Series||4 G, .296 BA, 4 HR, 20 R||3 G, .225 BA, 6 HR, 15 R|
|Championship Series||5 G, .231 BA, 10 HR, 35 R||6 G, .279 BA, 8 HR, 33 R|
|World Series||2 G, .231 BA, 2 HR, 7 R||2 G, .222 BA, 2 HR, 4 R|
"I think that in most instances, good pitching can shut down good hitting, and mediocre pitching can't always shut down mediocre hitting," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said on Friday's workout day after his club rolled into town. "You look at both these lineups, both these lineups are very good, and the pitching on both sides is very good, and they've been two well-pitched games. It's usually what you see in playoff baseball."
"They're two fun teams to watch," said Hamels, the brand-new father who already has said he thinks this "feels" more like a World Series than it did last year. "Our lineups are very powerful and we do have some speed, and we definitely have the big-time closers and we have some big-time starters. I think it's just pretty good that we were able to kind of match up in the World Series, and I think for Major League Baseball it's pretty good to have these types of teams, because we can attract a lot of viewers."
Hamels throws the first pitch to Jeter at 7:57, and with it will come the increasing possibility of precipitation. The thought alone is almost horrifying to fans who went through last year's ordeal in this stretch of the World Series. The start of that Game 3 was delayed until after 10 p.m. due to rain, and then there was the sixth-inning suspension of Game 5 due to inclement weather -- forcing a two-day delay and the oddity of a 2 1/2-inning finish for the clincher.
This year, there is a 70 percent chance or better of showers in the forecast, from the first pitch through at least 11 p.m., according to Weather.com. It should feel like 63 degrees at the start of the game, and then the temperature will drop into in the mid-50s later in the night. Winds apparently will be an issue, forecast at upwards of 15 mph most of the night.
The Phillies announced on Friday that Joe Blanton -- who hit that startling home run during his start against the Rays last October -- will be the team's Game 4 starter. The Yankees are keeping their Game 4 choice close to the vest. They could come back with ace CC Sabathia on three days' rest, or it could be a fourth starter such as Chad Gaudin.
"He is prepared to start either one," Girardi said of the possibility of Sabathia going in Game 4 or 5. "Physically, we'll continue to talk to CC and how our guys are doing, and we'll talk about it as a staff the next couple days and decide what we're going to do."
Girardi said the possibility of the Yankees going up 2-1 or down 2-1 "does have a little something to do with it."
Both managers declared their bullpens not only rested, but very rested. It will be interesting to see what happens when these clubs play on three consecutive days, considering that the month of October has been so unusual in terms of off-days.
As always, this is when the designated hitter becomes a major issue. Not being able to use a DH changes the Yankees' approach and puts an important bat in Pettitte's hands. It typically winds up being an issue that is more of a talking point and less of a game factor. It just means that Girardi will have to manage more like a National League manager and think in terms of double-switches.
It's not like the NL wins this thing every year. Boston's Terry Francona did just fine with pitchers batting in 2004 and 2007, and so did Ozzie Guillen with his White Sox in '05. But Manuel said he believes the NL manager always has a tactical advantage with no DH in an NL park.
"The biggest reason is, I think one of the biggest problems you have is in the middle of the game when you're making decisions over your pitching and when to take him out of the game, and I think that plays a big role," Manuel explained. "I think that the players sitting on your bench ... they get in the game more, and you use them more because of how the National League is played. I think it becomes big, and I think that's why I like the National League, because I managed in both leagues, but I like in part managing in the National League because there are more decisions you make and you have to make more moves, and there's things that come up in the game.
"But the pitching thing is the biggest -- it's when to get a guy, especially the starter. And I think that becomes big."
There is so much about this one to make you watch it. Many fans whose teams are long since eliminated have found something to root for or root against in this Fall Classic -- something that comes with the territory if the Yankees are in it.
"No team is more loved and hated than us," Yankees left fielder Johnny Damon said Friday, shrugging off the way the City of Brotherly Love's unofficial representatives made sure to rag on the Bronx Bombers as they showed up in town. "We're so used to that. But I think the Phillies have that kind of experience, too. These are both teams that play around a lot of emotion all the time, around big situations. It's something you expect with these clubs."
This marks the 54th time that the World Series has been tied after two games, and the team winning Game 3 in that situation has gone on to win the title on 35 occasions. That has been the case in the past two instances and nine of the past 10, the exception being 2003, when the Yankees won Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead, but lost the next three games to the Marlins. Prior to that, it had not happened since 1979.
That is where we are now, the first two games a wash, and suddenly a five-game mini-series in which the Phillies, rather than the Yankees, have home-field advantage.
The defending champs are here. The 26-time champs are here. It's A-Rod vs. Hamels, Howard vs. Pettitte, and it's like a shower of candy on Halloween. The Fall Classic is back in Philly.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.