2009 WORLD SERIES
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Stocked full of honed home run hitters, powerful pitchers and frenzied fans - plus a fast-talking shortstop fond of forecasting future results - the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies generated a Fall Classic of talk ahead of Wednesday night's opener.
"I think we mirror each other," Yankees star Alex Rodriguez said Tuesday. "They have switch-hitters, just like us. They have power, just like us."
So let the mighty matchup begin: Philadelphia, defending just its second World Series title, against the moneyed, much-admired and much-hated team that often sets baseball's standards for success and excess.
"Obviously they have a lot of the star power in their lineup and all the hype that goes along with being Yankees," Ryan Howard said. "We're from Philadelphia."
New York may be a heavy favorite in Las Vegas, but players on both sides predict a close Series, perhaps ending a record run of five straight that have ended in sweeps or five games.
Both teams worked out Tuesday in the mist of $1.5 billion new Yankee Stadium, where two freshly painted logos were in foul territory in honor of the ballpark's first World Series. Still standing across the street, covered in black mesh as if a ghost, is its 86-year-old predecessor, awaiting demolition after hosting a record 100 Series games.
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CC Sabathia, 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA in his first postseason with the Yankees, starts Wednesday night for New York against former Cleveland teammate Cliff Lee, 2-0 with an 0.74 ERA for the Phillies. The latest-opening World Series ever, one that will stretch into November for only the second time, begins with a rematch of the April 16 ballpark opener, won by the Indians 10-2.
"It's going to be a lot of fun," Sabathia said.
George Steinbrenner, New York's 79-year-old owner, was expected at the stadium he built for the first time since opening day. First Lady Michelle Obama also planned to be on hand in a celebrity-filled crowd wondering whether the Yankees are on the way to a 27th title - and first since 2000.
Teammates 16 months ago, Lee and Sabathia texted each other often in the runup. Sabathia won the 2007 AL Cy Young Award with the Indians, and was followed by Lee last year.
"I think we made each other better," Lee said. "We helped each other out as far as how we thought we should approach certain teams and just what's the best frame of mind to have on the mound and stuff."
Pedro Martinez - the former Red Sox star - starts Game 2 for the Phillies against A.J. Burnett, and that should really juice up the crowd. Ever since he strangely said "I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy" following a 2004 loss at Fenway Park, chants of "Who's your daddy?" have boomed through the Bronx whenever he's pitched.
While most players practiced protestations of humility, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins attracted attention with a brash boast.
"Of course we're going to win," the 2007 NL MVP said on "The Jay Leno Show" on Monday night. "If we're nice we'll let it go six, but I'm thinking five. Close it out at home."
The Yankees responded with a verbal pie to the face.
"He's been Nostradamus, that's what I heard," catcher Jorge Posada said. "He's been (making) a lot of good predictions, so we've got to take that away from him."
Rollins had forecast the Yankees and Phillies would meet in the Series. Before the 2007 season, he said the Phillies and not the Mets were the team to beat in the NL East.
"That's just Jimmy," Howard said. "Obviously, with those comments, you know here in Yankee Stadium, you know they're going to be all over him. And you know what? He wants that. He relishes that moment."
With Howard and Rodriguez, this will be only the second Series with two former season home runs leaders since 1975's faceoff between Cincinnati's Johnny Bench and Boston's Carl Yastrzemski, according to STATS LLC. The other was in 1989's Earthquake Series, when Oakland's Bash Brothers of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire swept San Francisco and Kevin Mitchell.
No player in the major leagues has been scrutinized more than A-Rod, a postseason star following a scandalous spring training that included a steroid admission and hip surgery.
And Howard has carried the defending champion Phillies every bit as much as Rodriguez has propelled the Yankees to their first Series appearance since 2003 - and the first of his career.
"Ryan, along with his power, he's also become a great hitter," Rodriguez said. "And that's bad news for the National League and bad news for us."
The 34-year-old Rodriguez already has succeeded Reggie Jackson as the favorite Yankees target of wannabe amateur psychologists, who try to analyze past playoff flops and his relationships with Madonna last year and Kate Hudson this season. Now he wants to follow Mr. October as a champion.
A three-time AL MVP, he entered the first round against Minnesota hitting .136 (8 for 59) in the postseason dating to 2004 and was hitless in 18 consecutive playoff at-bats with runners in scoring position.
What a change.
He led the Yankees with a .438 average, five homers and 12 RBIs in series victories over the Twins and Los Angeles Angels, hitting tying home runs in the seventh, ninth and 11th innings.
"I think everyone is looking for a profound answer," he said, "and I don't have one."
2009 NATIONAL LEAGUE SERIES
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