Baseball: Big hits are guaranteed in battle of the sluggers

Two blistering line-ups of home-run all-stars and the greatest pitchers in the game – the Yankees v Phillies showdown promises to be a classic World Series

Call it what you will: "the Amtrak Series", or the "I-95 Series", after the train and interstate highway which link the two mid-Atlantic metropolises. Either way, the battle that starts tonight in the Bronx between the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies should be the most compelling World Series in a decade. And, baseball's high command would add, about time too.

For the last few years, the sport's showcase event, between the champions of the National League and American League has been a dud – a string of short, one-sided contests that were competitive flops and TV ratings busts. This one, though, should be different.

For one thing, after an unconscionable gap of six years, the Yankees are back. Love them or loathe them, every fan in the land has an opinion about baseball's richest, vainest and most successful franchise, winner of an unmatched 26 World Series.

And this time New York's opponents are no pushovers. Not only are the Phillies defending champions, courtesy of a comprehensive victory 12 months ago over the unheralded Tampa Bay Rays. They are beyond argument the best team in the National League, loaded with young stars with the makings of one of those dynasties of dominance that used to be the Yankees' preserve.

Baseball's oldest postseason adage is that good pitching always beats good hitting. And this year the very best pitching will be taking on the very best hitting – with no margin for error. Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and new Yankee Stadium where game one of the best-of-seven series opens, have yielded more home runs than any other ballparks in the major leagues.

Back in the 1920s, the Yankees patented the original "Murderers Row", a line of slugger-executioners built around two immortals named Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. World Series 2009 will pit the nearest contemporary equivalents against each other.

The Yankees' modern Ruth is named Alex Rodriguez, on pace to capture the career home runs record held by Barry Bonds. "A-Rod" always choked in the postseason when it really mattered, they said. This year he's given every critic the lie. Baseball's most talented player has finally shown he has the nerve as well, coming up with a string of clutch hits against the Minnesota Twins in the division series, and hitting .429 (better than four hits every 10 plate appearances) in the AL championship series against the Los Angeles Angels.

Then there's slugger Mark Teixeira, who's given value for every cent of the $180m (£110m) the Yankees are paying for his services over eight years, as well as Derek Jeter, the finest lead-off hitter in the game, the ever-dangerous Hideki Matsui, aka "Godzilla", the highest paid Japanese star in the majors, and Johnny Damon, who in his Red Sox days inflicted postseason grief of his own on the Yankees.

But one team in baseball may top this array: the 2009 Phillies, with four hitters in the heart of the line-up with at least 30 homers. Ryan Howard had 45 in the regular season, new sensation Jayson Werth 36, Raul Ibañez 34, and Chase Utley 31. And there's been no let-up in the postseason, as the Phillies blitzed first the Colorado Rockies and then the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL championship series.

But if these howitzer batteries are to function, they must overcome the meanest pitching in the majors. Tonight's game one pits CC Sabathia for the Yankees against the Phillies' Cliff Lee. A couple of years ago they were team-mates at the Cleveland Indians. Right now they are the most dominant pitchers in the game, with a combined earned run average over six starts of just 1.93.

The Yankees signed up the 6ft 7in, 20st Sabathia for a king's ransom in the close season, for one single reason: to win the World Series. The Phillies in mid-season acquired Lee's services for similar motives. His response in game three against the Dodgers was a three-hit shutout.

Game two promises more of the same – the gritty AJ Burnett, the Yankees third big close-season signing in 2008, against veteran Pedro Martinez, the former Boston ace, whose greatest pleasure in life is mowing down Yankee line-ups. "You have a history with the Yankees, don't you?" a reporter asked Pedro. "No," came the answer, "the Yankees have a history with me."

In the end though the final riddle of this perfectly balanced Series comes down to the closers. Both the Phillies and the Yankees make a habit of late innings comebacks. Standing in the way however respectively are Brad Lidge and Mariano Rivera. Both have ice in their veins. Neither has blown a postseason save. The one that doesn't now will surely end up with a World Series winner's ring.

Power players: Kings of swing...

Ryan Howard

The powerful 29-year-old is the fastest player to reach both 100 and 200 home runs in MLB history. Twice named in the All-Star game, Howard was also part of the side that won last year's World Series.

Alex Rodriguez

The youngest player ever to hit 500 home runs, 34-year-old third baseman Rodriguez signed a 10-year, $275m contract in 2007. 'A-Rod' has been named American League MVP on three occasions. He admitted past steroid use earlier this year after previous denials.

... and the perfect pitchers

Brad Lidge

The 32-year-old pitcher boasts 714 strikeouts and helped clinch the World Series in 2008, throwing the winning pitch in Game Five against the Tampa Bay Rays. Nicknamed 'Lights Out'.

CC Sabathia

Started his career with the Cleveland Indians but in 2007 the pitcher, 29, signed a seven-year $161m contract with the Yankees, the biggest for a pitcher in the history of the sport. Named in the All-Star Game three times.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Front End Web Developer

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Back End Web Developer

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

The Jenrick Group: Electrical Maintenance Engineer

£36500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Electrical Maintenan...

The Jenrick Group: Multi Skilled Maintenance Engineer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Multi Skill...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'