The 2009 World Series begins tonight at 23.57 GMT and it promises to be a fantastic contest between two excellent teams. The Philadelphia Phillies are the reigning champions and return to the Fall Classic with many of the same hitters that won it all just twelve months ago. The New York Yankees have history on their side, being the most successful franchise in U.S. sports with twenty-six World Series titles, and their star-studded roster has been designed purely with World Championship success in mind. Both would be worthy champs, but only one can end the season celebrating.
The series is too close to call, so I can’t give you any clues on who is going to win it. However I can set the scene with a World Series 2009 primer.
How did they get there?
They both finished top of their respective division after playing a 162 game regular season. The Phillies took the National League East by six games over the Florida Marlins, winning 93 games and losing 69. The Yankees won the American League East with the best record in the Major Leagues: 103 wins to 59 losses. They were joined in the postseason by six other teams: the four other division winners (L.A. Dodgers, St Louis Cardinals, L.A. Angels and Minnesota Twins) and the two wild cards (Colorado Rockies and Boston Red Sox).
The Phillies defeated the Rockies by three games to one in the first round of the playoffs, the Divisional Series stage, and then made short work of the Dodgers in the second round, the Championship Series stage, with a 4-1 series victory. The Yankees swept aside the Twins in their Divisional Series 3-0 and then completed a 4-2 Championship Series win over the Angels on Sunday. That means Philadelphia are the National League champions and New York are the American League champions. Both are notable achievements, but no one really wants to be remembered for winning the League pennant. It’s the World Series that everyone strives for and the two teams will now meet to determine who comes out on top in 2009.
What is the format of the World Series?
The World Series is played as a best-of-seven event and the first team to four victories will be the winner. The games are split across the two cities and since 2003 it has been the team whose league won the mid-season All-Star game that gets the advantage of potentially playing four games at home (previously it alternated between the leagues year-by-year). The American League hadn’t lost the All-Star game since 1996 (the 2002 game infamously ended in a farcical tie) coming into this year’s game on 14 July and that trend continued with a 4-3 victory, so the Yankees have home field advantage.
The first two games of the series will take place in New York. Everyone will then move to Philadelphia for the next three games, provided neither team completes a 4-0 sweep, and the final two games would be played back in New York if needed.
When are the games being played?
The World Series games all take place at prime time in the States, making for late/early starts over here. While Daylight Saving Time ended for us a few days ago, the same doesn’t happen in the U.S. until this coming Sunday. That means the first three games will begin just before midnight British time. Three of the other four games will then start an hour later (although they start at the same time for people in the States …), with the exception being the Sunday game which is a little later presumably due to NFL TV commitments.
- Game One – Tonight (Wed. 28) at 23.57 GMT.
- Game Two – Tomorrow (Thurs. 29) at 23.57 GMT.
- Game Three – Saturday 31 at 23.57 GMT.
- Game Four – Sunday 1 November in the States, Monday 2 at 01.20 a.m. for us.
- Game Five – Monday 2 in the States, Tuesday 3 at 00.57 a.m. for us.*
- Game Six – Wednesday 4 in the States, Thursday 5 at 00.57 a.m. for us.*
- Game Seven – Thursday 5 in the States, Friday 6 at 00.57 a.m. for us.*
* = if needed.
Where can we watch it?
Sadly, not on free-to-air TV. Five had been the terrestrial home of MLB since 1997, but they decided not to renew the rights in 2009 and no one else has picked them up. Their brilliant World Series coverage will be greatly missed. ESPN America is your only option if you want to watch the World Series on TV and subscription details can be found on their website. The option chosen by many baseball fans is to follow the action online via MLB.com. The postseason subscription is still available for $19.95 and this allows you to listen/watch all of the games live and via the archive from approximately ninety minutes after each game has finished (plus you also get access to all of the 2009 MLB regular season games). MLB fans who subscribed to the season-long subscription do not have to pay extra for the postseason package: those games come as part of the original deal for international fans. Alternatively you can follow the game via MLB.com’s free Gameday system.
If you are not able to watch the games live, it’s worth noting that MLB.com offers a free ‘Condensed Game’ video for all MLB contests. These typically last for a good twenty minutes and are an excellent way to catch up on the action. It normally takes several hours after the game for them to appear, but when they are available they can be found on the Media Center page.
What can we expect from the two teams?
Predictions are always dangerous, but it isn’t too risky to state that we’re likely to see a few home runs during the series. The Yankees and Phillies were the top two home-run hitting teams during the regular season. Both ballparks are homer-friendly and the two batting lineups are full of hitters who can put a charge into a ball, whether the pitcher makes a mistake or not.
The potency of the two sets of hitters puts even more emphasis on the pitchers than usual. Conventional baseball wisdom states that good pitching will beat good hitting, but in this case the hurlers may simply be looking to limit the damage as best they can rather than expecting to dominate the series. Although talented, there are question marks over a number of the pitchers that figure to play a large part in the series. The Yankees’ A.J. Burnett can run through even the best lineups seemingly with ease when he’s on his game, but that has rarely been the case in recent months and his manager Joe Girardi will have little idea which Burnett will turn up when his start comes around (most likely in Game Two). Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has the same problem with his scheduled Game Three starter Cole Hamels (probably against Yankee veteran Andy Pettitte, unless he switches spots with Burnett). The lefty was in stunning form throughout the postseason last year and won MVP awards in both their Championship Series and World Series victories. He’s had something of a World Series hangover in 2009 though. Again, he could turn up and blow the Yankees away or he could struggle to get through six innings.
And then there’s Pedro Martinez: one of the greatest pitchers of the last twenty years. Now thirty-eight years old, Pedro isn’t the same guy that between 1997 and 2003 made pitching against the best hitters in the world look easy (his 118-36 win-loss record and 2.20 earned run average over that span would be unbelievable had so many millions of fans not been fortunate enough to witness it); however he showed in the NLCS against the Dodgers that he can still produce a strong performance when needed. To say the former Red Sox ace has ‘previous’ with the Yankees doesn’t even begin to tell the full story and his scheduled start at Yankee Stadium tomorrow in Game Two is going to make for fascinating viewing.
The relative question marks over the two pitching staffs do not extend to tonight’s series opener. Both teams are able to start Game One with their best pitcher on the mound: Cliff Lee for the Phillies and CC Sabathia for the Yankees. One of the annual awards that gets handed out in MLB is the Cy Young award for best pitcher in each league and in Sabathia (2007) and Lee (2008), we’ve got the last two American League winners of that prestigious prize. It won’t be much fun for Cleveland Indians fans to see their two former pitchers facing each other in the World Series. The rest of us can sit back and enjoy what should be a classic encounter: two top pitchers duelling against each other whilst facing intimidating batting lineups. Sabathia may well pitch again in Game Four (possibly also in Game Seven if needed), although either Joe Blanton or rookie J.A. Happ are more likely to take the mound for the Phillies in that game, with Lee expected to be kept back on normal rest for a possible Game Five.
Let the series begin
First pitch is set for 23.57 GMT tonight and you can guarantee it will be well worth staying up for.