The reigning World Champion, the Yankees, did little to dispel the notion that they were the team to beat. Very little had changed following their celebration last October. They still had the nine-figure talents of A-Rod, Teixeira, and Sabathia. They had their lucky charms: Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, Posada. The ever-excellent lineup was perhaps even the slightest bit improved by the acquisition of Curtis Granderson and the continued development of Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner.
On the other side we had the two-time reigning NL Champs, the Philadelphia Phillies, who still boasted the league's most intimidating lineup, but had also added the league's best pitcher, Roy Halladay. His greatest appeal for Philadelphia GM, Ruben Amaro, may have been his incredible record against the team that had ousted the Phillies the previous fall.
The Yankees got out of the gates quickly. They had the best record during the first half, and finished the season just one win short of the AL's top seed. The Phillies struggled with injuries early, but by going 50-25 after the All-Star Break, they managed to finish with the best record in baseball. To many, a rematch seemed destined. Would Doc Halladay be the key to trouncing the Bombers? Would Sabathia again dominate the lefty-heavy Phillies lineup? How many big homers would be yielded by the shaky middle relief corps on either side?
Alas, we got ahead of ourselves...
And it appeared the megaliths did as well. The Yankees got owned by Colby Lewis, Cliff Lee, and Derek Holland, while the Rangers put up crooked numbers night after night after night. Texas had a dozen multirun innings against Yankees beleaguered staff. They hit nine homers and outscored the Bombers by nineteen runs over six games. Although nobody seem comfortably saying it, this was a flat-out shelling. In at least half the games, including two in their home ballpark, New York barely showed up.
In the NL, the vaunted Philadelphia lineup had no answer for Tim Lincecum in Game One, for Matt Cain in Game Three, or for Javier Lopez and Brian Wilson throughout, while the self-described conglomeration of "misfits and castoffs" manufactured runs when they needed them most, led by unlikely hero, Cody Ross, who probably wouldn't have been in the starting lineup had it not been for a neck injury which sidelined Jose Guillen. But San Francisco hardly dominated. They were actually outscored by Philadelphia over the course of the NLCS (by one run) and never led any game by more than three. It was tortuous, to borrow the sentiment of Giants announcer Duane Kuiper which has become the rallying cry of Bay Are fans, but it was enough.
And so, for the first time since 2005, when the White Sox broke the Black Sox curse against the Astros, who were representing the NL for the first time, we have a matchup of two teams who have both been waiting a very long time for some relief. To me, that's a recipe for excitement. Sure, in 2005, the White Sox managed an impressive sweep, but every game was decided by two runs or less, and one of them lasted 14 innings. In 2002, when the Giants faced off with the Angels, who were, like the Rangers, coming off their first AL Pennant, we certainly got our money's worth. There were for one-run games, including a wild 11-10 slugfest in Game Two. It was the last time we had a World Series that went to seven games.
So, the Giants have been here as recently as 2002 (which, of course, really isn't that recent), but they lost, in heartbreaking fashion (famously up 5-0 with eight outs to go). In 1989 they got swept in the infamous "Quake" series against the Bash Brothers. In 1962, they lost in seven to the Yankees. The Giants have never brought the Championship Trophy home to San Francisco, and the franchise hasn't won it period for more than half a century. Willie Mays was 23-years-old the last time they won in '54. Willie McCovey never got a ring. Juan Marichal never got a ring. Ditto for Will Clark. And, most famously, Barry Bonds.
The Rangers, an '60s expansion team, had never won a postseason series before this month. Before this weekend, they were one of only three franchises who had never won a pennant (sorry Mariners and Nationals). They joined the league as the Washington Senators in 1961, making them easily the oldest team to be making their first trip. Generally, teams look to mark such occasions by rolling out a roster of the best players in their history for photo-ops and opening ceremonies, but the Rangers history has been so thoroughly mediocre that's it's hard to imagine who, besides Nolan Ryan, would make the guest list. The hitters who top all the franchise record boards are Ivan Rodriguz, Rafael Palmeiro, and Juan Gonzalez. Pudge, of course, still plays for the Nationals, so it's hard to imagine him trotting out like an old-timer. All three have been tainted by the steroid controversy and all left the franchise on relatively bad terms. But who else do you turn to? Toby Harrah? Ruben Sierra? Don't be surprised if we get to see Kenny Rogers first World Series appearance since the infamous "dirtball" incident in 2007. Charlie Hough won 139 games for the Rangers, best in franchise history. That'd barely be good enough for 10th on the Giants list.
San Francisco will, of course, role out a cavalcade of stars. We'll likely see Hall of Famers like Mays, McCovey, and Marichal. Perhaps Orlando Cepeda. Gaylord Perry pitched for both squads. That might be interesting. Bonds threw out a first pitch during the NLCS. Will he return for another engagement with the team that refused to offer him a contract the year after he broke the home-run record?
Clearly, the Giants have the more impressive history, they've got the more diehard fan base, and, to be fair, they've waited longer. There are plenty of octogenarians in the AT&T stand who may not be able to handle another heartbreak. It's probably good news for Giants fans that there isn't a single player on the team who was even in the organization in 2002. Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum were still in high school at the time.
What promises to be great about this matchup in general is that both these teams have proven themselves utterly immune to expectations, pressure, criticism, second-guessing, and outside forces of all variety. That's partially why, when I gave my Narrative Likability grades prior to the playoffs, these two teams got the highest marks. I don't expect a whole lot of momentum swings. These teams don't work like that. The Rangers suffered one of the most brutal losses in recent postseason history in Game One of the ALCS, as the Yankees game back from five runs down in the eighth inning. The Rangers followed up on the gutwrenching loss with three straight wins by a combined score of 25 to 5. In the NLCS, the Giants led for only 43% of the innings. They easily could have been worn out waiting for the other shoe to drop, but they rallied from behind on three separate occasions to beat a team which literally everybody thought was better than them.
In the next 48 hours I hope to provide a few tidbits and a little provocative analysis regarding The Expendables and The Rangers of Redemption. I don't know that I've ever been more excited for a World Series.