Bronx, NY – Where do we begin? The 105th World Series that begins Wednesday evening in the Bronx between the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies has the makings of a classic. And it all starts with a classic pitching matchup on the mound of Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee and New York’s CC Sabathia.
“It’s just weird because a couple of years ago we were talking about maybe pitching in a World Series together,” commented Sabathia Tuesday at Yankee Stadium about his former Cleveland teammate Lee. Now, though the last two American League Cy Young Award winners are on opposing sides and can set the table for something special.
It is the first time that former teammates have matched up in the World Series for different clubs since game 1 of the 2005 Fall Classic when former Yankee teammates Roger Clemens (Houston) and Jose Contreras (Chicago) met at the series opener in Chicago.
Joe Girardi debuts as a World Series manager, the fourth such Yankee who has played and managed in the Series having been a player under previous manager Joe Torre in 1996 and 1998-99. Plenty of history then for the Yankees, and Girardi is well aware of the pressures involved with his team as favorites to get their elusive 27th world title.
“I was pretty aware of the pressures, because I think as players you understood what the deal was every year here, because of the way that Mr. Steinbrenner and everyone put the club together,” commented Girardi after his team concluded their workout on a misty field Tuesday.
Of course there is pressure. George Steinbrenner has less authority now as the owner. Hank and Hal will welcome their father to the new billion dollar stadium in the Bronx Wednesday evening and have made it known, getting to and winning the World Series is a necessity when you sign on and manage the Yankees. They have come this far, and the Steinbrenner family wants nothing but the brass ring and a championship for New York.
And for Phils manager Charlie Manuel, the pressure does not seem to be an issue. He has guided his team to a second consecutive Series appearance, the first manager since Torre took his Yankees to four straight from 1998-2201. The Phillies, perhaps are attempting to become a dynasty like the Yankees, as no team has won back-to-back championships since the Yankees did that with three straight from 1998-2000.
“We have no pressure as the defending champions,” said Manuel when it was his turn to take the podium. “They have to take it from us,’ he said. “The games are won on the field,” commented Manuel when asked his opinion about the Yankees being the favorites. His Phils have more experienced Series experience, 17 have been there before to the Yankees nine.
A classic Series perhaps because Manuel has opted to go with Pedro Martinez as his game two starter Thursday evening over last year’s Series MVP Cole Hamels. Martinez returns to New York, once again on the big stage and this time at the new Yankee Stadium.
“This may be my last big stage,” said Martinez who had a serious look in his eye at one of the many booths set up in the Great Hall at the Stadium where media met the players. Afterwards, fans peeking in from the closed gates taunted the 16-year veteran. He was receptive and Pedro put on a show before testing his arm on the field
There were some questions in early May, before Alex Rodriguez returned to the lineup. After that the Yankees proved they were destined to get back to the World Series. They were the best team in baseball from then on, and now four more wins await them this time, before they can be called the best against the defending champions.
If Rodriguez continues his torrid hitting, which may be stopped by the numerous lefthanders the Phillies throw, well the Yankees could be in trouble. If Mark Teixiera, who showed some signs of getting out of a horrid postseason slump at the end of the ALCS, then the Phillies will have their problems.
“Think we can put ourselves on the map to be the better team,” said the Phillies Shane Victorino who ignored a New York tabloid front page that mocked him. Victorino also pays no attention towards comparing his team and the Yankees. Getting 26 championships like the Yankees also can’t be compared, but consecutive championships would be an accomplishment especially going through New York.
“We want to put ourselves in that category,” he commented about a possible dynasty. “You know to win back-to-back would be fun. They have power and pitching and ultimately it comes down to one game at a time.”
Both teams combined hit 468 home runs this season, and for the first time in 83 years the World Series features two teams with the most home runs hit in the Majors. Yankee pitchers will face a lineup of Philly hitters that have six players in double digits when hitting the long ball and they both have hit 14 home runs this postseason.
So there are some comparisons, and then there is the rooting interest of New York baseball fans. Martinez had a stint with the cross-town Mets and still respects that other baseball team in town. “They will get stronger and better,” he said, “and I know there fans won’t be rooting for us.
Of course not, because in New York a Mets fan has a dilemma. It will be heard. They despise the cross-town Yankees because they always get to this point of a baseball season. And the dreadful Phillies have become a nemesis taking the last three National League east division titles under Manuel, so a Mets fan may root for the Yanks.
But in baseball circles it does not matter who a fan roots for. Fans want to see a good World Series, so does everyone associated with Major League Baseball, and the Fox Sports Network may have a ratings buster due to the interest and magnitude of this series.
So when the Phillies Jimmy Rollins made a bold prediction, his team in five games that set the tone more. Others believe it will be Yankees in six or seven games and a lot rides on how Girardi sets his roster. He may carry two catchers instead one instead of the three he has used in the previous postseason games against Minnesota and the Angels.
And the Yankees will probably use a game four starter. “You look at where you’re at and make decisions as you go,” says Girardi about who to start after Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. “We have a plan of what we’re going to do and that plan can be adjusted depending on where you are in the Series.”
That relates also to the bullpen where the Series can ultimately be decided. Girardi still has plans to use Phil Hughes in a set up role, along with Joba Chamberlain. And one thing is certain, the Yankees have Mariano Rivera and the all-time best closer in postseason baseball just about assures a Yankees win.
The difference from Rivera and other postseason closers, you are seeing Cy Young and not Mel Rojas or Armando Benitez two former New York Mets who had no consistency when closing an important game. And don’t be surprised to see Girardi call his closer for a six out save like he did Sunday in the ALCS clincher against the Angels.
A classic in the making for all baseball fans the next week or so for sure. In the end, home runs from both sides including Ryan Howard of the Phillies. “Just try and take advantages of some mistakes they may make,” he says about ways to overtake the Yankees.
.“Don’t know a thing about them, don’t know much about them,” said the captain Derek Jeter when asked about the Phillies in the new spacious Yankees clubhouse that got another dose of champagne Sunday evening. Jeter is a part of that core of four with Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte who now go to their seventh World Series.
Who is better, Jeter or the Phils Chase Utley? In a matter of hours, the Yankees will know more about the Phillies than they did in the three games they played against each other earlier this season. Then the Phils took two of three in the Bronx. They were good games then, and expect the same now.
Yankees have home field advantage. That helps also and in the end they get their 27th world championship in the Bronx next week in six games.
e-mail Rich Mancuso: [email protected]