World Series: Can Pedro Bury His Yankee Ghosts?

The Phillies and the Yankees face off tonight in Game 1 of the 105th World Series, and the whole deal may come down to whether the Phillies’ ace Pedro Martinez can forget what the Yanks did to him and the Red Sox in 2003.

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Unless you have grown jaded by ESPN’s treatment of baseball which places all teams in the northeast corridor on one level and the other 26 teams in some pseudo-minor league, then this is an easy World Series to like. The New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies have many compelling story lines, and the two teams are evenly matched.

The irony of this matchup alone is worth a few nights of enduring commentator Tim McCarver on the television broadcasts which begin tonight on Fox. The Phillies and their faithful are the long-suffering. The only franchise in baseball history to lose 10,000 games, the Phillies have only two World Series titles to their name, and one of them came just last year. On the other hand, the Yankees are October perennials, winners of more than 2,000 titles and 5,000 pennants (or at least it seems that way); more than half of baseball’s most cherished lore about the World Series seems to involve the Yankees in some way or another.

Yet coming into this series, it’s the Phillies who are the perennial. The defending champs have won three-straight division titles and finished in second place in their division for each of the three seasons before that. They are the dominant National League team of this era. In addition, they are a great example of clutch baseball; they have won 18 of their last 23 playoff games, and in 2007 and ’08 made mad dashes at the end to qualify for the playoffs on season’s final day. It’s these Yankees that are relatively new to this level. Shortstop Derek Jeter, catcher Jorge Posada and pitchers Andy Petite and Mariano Rivera are holdovers from a Yankee team that won four World Series titles in five years from 1996 to‘2000, but the other 21 players are new to this level when wearing New York pinstripes. The recent history of the Yankees is of first-round flameouts.

Both teams arrive locked and loaded. Each has won seven of their nine playoff games this October, and each is winning the right way, power hitting, solid fielding and good pitching. There is no exact formula for winning in post-season baseball, but that one comes as close as any. Both teams have hit 14 home runs in their nine post-season contests. Yes, both play in hitter-friendly ballparks, but the World Series isn’t held on a neutral field; expect these teams to keep mashing.

There are three key factors that should decide the series. Can Alex Rodriguez and C.C. Sabathia continue their current tear? Will the Phillies bullpen hold up? Whither Pedro Martinez?