Buzz growing as Series has classic feel
Ratings soar as heavyweight battle lights up October
NEW YORK -- It's hard to say what Mother Nature might have in store this weekend when the 105th World Series comes to Philadelphia -- especially after what happened last fall -- but at this point, the overall outlook for Phillies-Yankees seems much easier to forecast.
A long and classic World Series is brewing.
The Yankees tied this one at a game apiece with their 3-1 victory over Pedro Martinez and the Phillies on Thursday at Yankee Stadium, and now the scene shifts to Citizens Bank Park in baseball-crazy Philadelphia. Weather.com is forecasting showers starting at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday and then through the night, but at only 50- or 60-percent probability for the precipitation.
The clubs work out Friday afternoon on the Phillies' field, and then the World Series will resume Saturday with a Game 3 matchup of left-handers, featuring Cole Hamels on the mound for the defending champs against Andy Pettitte, the winningest pitcher in postseason history.
Technically, the Phillies are following the same script as last year, when they won the opener on the road and then lost to the Rays in St. Petersburg a night later. But virtually no one involved in this Fall Classic is drawing parallels to what happened a year ago, when the Phillies won in five. Certainly not Hamels, who started that 2008 World Series Game 5 that was suspended about 48 hours due to inclement weather.
"It actually feels like a World Series," Hamels said while dressing after the Yankees' victory, aware that his comments were not going to go over too well down on Florida's Gulf Coast. "Tampa Bay had tremendously talented players, but it's not the World Series-type city and flair that you expect in a World Series. I grew up in Atlanta. They were always on TV. That's what you were accustomed to, that's what you thought of when you thought of a World Series.
"Unfortunately, Tampa Bay doesn't have that type of attention. They're gonna put up some tremendous statistics and do well. But the attention you get in New York makes it feel like a World Series."
Everyone's watching this one. Game 1 was the second-highest-rated MLB postseason game since 1999. It was seen by 19.5 million viewers, which marked a 33 percent increase over last year's Game 1. That increase also marked the second-biggest year-to-year increase in World Series Game 1 viewership since data was first collected in 1968, trailing just 1976-77 (56 percent increase).
These are important numbers because this is a time of so much fragmentation of people's interest. Just look at the MLB.com Pulse of the Postseason page on an around-the-clock basis and you can see that everyone's watching. The soaring ratings were first reported by TBS amid the Division Series games, and then they continued in TBS and FOX reports during the League Championship Series.
On Thursday night, a world tuned in to watch Jay-Z and Alicia Keys perform "Empire State of Mind" on a stage behind second base, amid plenty of buzz on Twitter and elsewhere. Then it was John Legend's national anthem, and then it was the allure of Pedro Martinez facing the Yankee Stadium atmosphere that he knew ever so well while with Boston. It was the defending champs against the 26-time champs, the rosters chock-full of marquee stars -- the power, the pitching, the electricity.
Based on the first two games, it is obvious that this one is going to live up to its billing.
If it goes to a Game 7, it would be the first time since 2002 and it also would be the latest finish -- Nov. 5.
You probably will see a little of everything in this World Series. So far, it has been a bit surprising in many respects. It has not been a high-power display through the first two games, which so far have produced four home runs, all of the solo variety -- two by Chase Utley in Game 1, one by Mark Teixeira to tie Game 2 at 1 and then one by Hideki Matsui to put the Yankees up for good.
There have been a couple of bizarre trap plays in the Phillies infield, astounding in their reverse-image contrast. The one in the fifth inning of Game 1 featured Jimmy Rollins trying to short-hop a ball, accidentally catching it, then doubling up Matsui at first with a throw to Ryan Howard. The umpires all convened afterwards, and they clearly got it right.
The one in the seventh inning of Game 2 featured Howard trying to catch a sinking liner just before it hit the dirt, and apparently not doing so if you looked at the TV replays. The umps said he caught it, and he threw to Rollins, who tagged out Jorge Posada at second. The crew again convened, once again upholding the call, but this time they were incorrect in the final analysis.
COOKING AT HOME
|10/20/09||NLCS, Gm. 5||Dodgers||W, 10-4|
|10/19/09||NLCS. Gm. 4||Dodgers||W, 5-4|
|10/18/09||NLCS, Gm. 3||Dodgers||W, 11-0|
|10/8/09||NLDS, Gm. 2||Rockies||L, 5-4|
|10/7/09||NLDS, Gm. 1||Rockies||W, 5-1|
|10/27/08||WS, Gm. 5||Rays||W. 4-3|
|10/26/08||WS, Gm. 4||Rays||W, 10-2|
|10/25/08||WS, Gm. 3||Rays||W, 5-4|
|10/10/08||NLCS, Gm. 2||Dodgers||W, 8-5|
|10/9/08||NLCS, Gm. 1||Dodgers||W, 3-2|
|10/2/08||NLDS, Gm. 2||Brewers||W, 5-4|
|10/1/08||NLDS, Gm. 1||Brewers||W, 3-1|
The whole issue of instant-replay continued to be a major buzz among fans, especially in light of several important wrong calls earlier in the postseason rounds, and Commissioner Bud Selig did his best to quell the matter before Game 2, when he spoke about the subject after Derek Jeter was given the Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevy. Selig said there would be further discussion in the offseason, but that expansion of instant replay is not likely.
"Times change, but I'm still in favor of keeping the human element as a part of it, and I'm also very concerned about pace," he said. "I think there are other ways we can make corrections. During the offseason we'll review everything. I've made my position clear, and by the way, I think it's the position of most people in baseball. You have to be very careful when you tamper with a sport."
While Cliff Lee was in his own stratosphere with his Game 1 complete-game victory, so far the starting pitching has been outstanding, as advertised. Utley hurt Yankees ace CC Sabathia in the opener with the two big solo homers, but he dominated the rest of the lineup. In the first two games, Lee gave up six hits, Sabathia gave up four, Martinez gave up six and A.J. Burnett gave up four. All four turned in quality starts. All four set a tenor for this World Series, where pitching usually wins.
And the most interesting part about those four starting pitchers is that none of them were with these teams a year ago. In the Phillies' case, they weren't even with their current team this past midseason.
Expect the bats to awaken in this series, though. So far, Alex Rodriguez has struck out at least three times back-to-back -- following what had been a blockbuster, breakout postseason for him to date. Howard struck out four times in Game 2, and that follows a brilliant first two rounds and a good Game 1 on Wednesday. Jeter struck out three times in Game 2 -- the last one on that ill-fated strike-two bunt attempt -- but that followed a three-hit night.
There has been dazzling defense -- like Raul Ibanez's diving catch in left on Thursday, Lee's behind-the-back snag in Game 1 and Jose Molina's snap-throw to pick off Jayson Werth at first base. There has also been not-so great defense, like the Game 2 grounder that Rodriguez probably should have had, although it was scored a hit after it skipped under his glove at third. The Phillies and Yankees are two teams that are sound defensively, and with few weaknesses up and down the lineup.
"It's a terrible cliche, but it was a must-win," Teixeira said after Game 2. "You don't want to go 0-2 into Philadelphia. With my time at the Braves, I know how tough they are at home, especially in the World Series. Their fans are going to be all over us. It's going to be a great couple of games out there."
The only question is whether the World Series returns to Yankee Stadium. Based on everything we have seen so far, it would appear that you can count on it. This has all the makings of a seven-game series, which would be the ideal conclusion to a postseason that has everybody watching.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.