Thursday, October 29, 2009

1-0 Means A Little; 2-0 Means A Lot


The Fightin' Phils received a magnificent performance from Cliff Lee, who has been superb throughout these 2009 playoffs, and a "you ARE the man" 2-homerun show from Chase Utley to lead the way to a big 6-1 victory and a one game to none lead in last night's Game One of the World Series.

For the Phillies that means an awful lot. Much has already been written and spoken in other venues this morning relating to the fact that the last 6 teams to win Game One went on to win the World Series. Some have even pointed out that, even more ominously for that loser of the opener, 11 of the last 12 teams to win that first game have gone on to win the Series.

The one time in the past dozen years that the team winning the opener did not ultimately win was in the epic 2002 all-California World Series between the Barry Bonds-led San Francisco Giants and the Anaheim Angels. The GMen took the opener that year, lost the next two, then won games four and five to take a 3-2 series lead back to Anaheim. There they took a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the 8th before the Angels rallied to win, then won the 7th game and the franchise' only-ever World Series.

But tonight when Pedro Martinez takes the mound at the new Yankee Stadium he will be trying to tie an even tighter knot in the collar around the Yankee necks. The World Series began in 1903 and has been held every year with the exceptions of 1904 and 1994, making this the 104th Fall Classic. Only 11 times has a team fallen behind by 2 games to none and gone on to rally and win the World Series. Do the math - that's an 11% success rate.

So if the Phillies can somehow, in any way, fight their way to another victory tonight in the Bronx and take that 2-0 lead in the series, they odds tilt enormously in their favor with an 89% probability that they will win the World Series. Those numbers would actually likely be even a bit higher considering that the next three games will move to their home field at Citizens Bank Park.

This is the position that the club has put itself in by winning the opener last night. But nothing is guaranteed in tonight's 2nd game, and their own recent playoff history should remind these Phillies of that fact. In last season's run to the World Series championship, the Phils took the first game of each of their series' against Milwaukee, Los Angeles, and Tampa. Only in the Milwaukee series did they win Game Two.

This year they won the openers vs. Colorado in the NLDS and LA in the NLCS, but lost Game Two. That makes them 1-4 over the past two seasons in 2nd games of series. Go back to their sweep at the hands of the Rockies in the 2007 NLDS and the Phils are 1-5 in Game Two of their recent playoff series. There is usually a reason for these things when they happen, and there may be for this club as well.

These Phillies seem to thrive on being the underdogs, and on having their backs against the wall. Like the fictional hometown boxer Rocky Balboa, they relish in rising from the canvas to knock out their seemingly unbeatable opponents, especially with their home crowd roaring them on in support. These Phillies have proven much over the past couple of seasons, now they must prove that they have learned how to step on an opponent's neck once they have them down.

Perhaps more than at any other time in their recent playoff runs, they may have the right man in the right place at the right time. When Pedro Martinez takes the mound for them tonight there is absolutely no chance that the Yankee Stadium crowd or any of the other distractions of a World Series will shake him up. The future Hall of Famer is unflappable. The only two questions will be whether he has his good stuff, and whether the Phils bring their big bats to the contest.

The Phillies are one more good night, likely one hard-fought night, away from stepping on the Yankees necks and demanding the respect that they deserve as champions but have not yet been given by the national media and the odds-makers. One good night from Pedro, or the Phillies bats, or both, and Citizens Bank Park should again become the scene of a major World Series victory party this weekend.

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