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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Web Designer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Web Designer is required to join a f...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Business Development Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to develop an ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor