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Beating the Tampa Bay Rays in last year's World Series was nice. Facing the Los Angeles Angels this week would've been fine. But nothing could top defeating the Yankees, baseball's gold standard for excellence.
"People want to talk about the money they give out," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said Monday, referring to New York's $200-plus million payroll. "But the Yankees have 26 banners flying over their stadium, and they got those for a reason, because they want to win. When you beat them, there's a lot of satisfaction there."
The hard part is beating them. The Yankees have a rich history of winning, and they'll be seeking their 27th title when the World Series begins Wednesday night in New York. The Phillies are going for just their third championship in the franchise's 127-year history.
Is there extra motivation playing the Yankees? Do today's players care about the Yankee tradition, the pinstriped uniforms, the great names of the past like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Yogi Berra?
"There's definitely a special mystique when you walk into Yankee Stadium, new or old," All-Star outfielder Jayson Werth said. "It's the cathedral of baseball, where everybody wanted to play as a kid. It's Yankee Stadium. There might be a little motivation. All in all, it doesn't matter who we play or where we play. Everybody knows we have a job to do and we know how to do it."
For some, the Yankees are perceived as the "Evil Empire." They outspend all other teams in the majors every season. This year, New York's payroll on opening day was $66 million more than the Mets, who were second on the list. The Phillies were seventh at $113 million, or $88 million less than the Yankees.Werth said he doesn't look at other players' salaries, and Manuel downplayed the idea that New York's big spending motivates opponents.
"Playing the Yankees, who their names are and what they stand for, that's enough to motivate them," Manuel said. "I know when I walk in Yankee Stadium or the new stadium, it's got an aura about it. You think of the great players and the great teams that have come through there. That alone can motivate them."
The Phillies waited four days to find out their opponent after knocking off the Los Angeles Dodgers last Wednesday to clinch their seventh NL pennant. Players grew tired of questions about their preference for the World Series. Nearly everyone took the politically correct approach, saying it didn't matter which team won the ALCS.
Team president David Montgomery was a surprise exception."I think we do want the Yankees," Montgomery told The Philadelphia Daily News last week. "We're the defending champs. They were perceived to be the best team this year. Let's see what happens."
Pedro Martinez also wanted the Yankees."I respect the Yankees. I love the Yankees. But I would love to beat them as bad as I look forward to them," said Martinez, who faced New York numerous times while pitching for the Boston Red Sox.
The Phillies won two of three in an interleague series at the new Yankee Stadium in late May. They could've earned a sweep if closer Brad Lidge hadn't blown a save chance in the ninth inning of the second game. Lidge also blew a save in the finale, but Philadelphia won in extra innings.
CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett started those games for the Yankees and they'll face the Phillies again. Two of Philadelphia's current starters - Cliff Lee and Martinez - weren't on the team for that series.
Sabathia, the Yankees' ace and MVP of the ALCS, was hit hard in a loss to the Phillies in the NL division series last year. Pitching on three days' rest for his fourth consecutive start for Milwaukee, Sabathia allowed five runs, six hits and walked four in 3 2-3 innings in a 5-2 loss. Shane Victorino hit a grand slam off Sabathia in that game.
"We've seen him quite a bit. We know what he's got," said Manuel, who managed Sabathia when he was a rookie in Cleveland. "At the end of last year when we beat him, I felt he was a little tired. He's a top-notch pitcher. Believe me, when he puts his uniform on, he doesn't back down."
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