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Dream Matchup to Remain Just That

Remember when Joe Montana was traded from the 49ers to the Chiefs before the 1993 NFL season and both teams made it to their respective conference championship games? A delicious Super Bowl matchup between San Francisco and Kansas City awaited, but no one told the Cowboys and Bills as it was those teams that advanced in rather dominant fashion. I'm kind of getting the same feeling with this year's league championship series in baseball.

Let's face it, who outside of Phillies, Rays and Yankee fans wouldn't want to see the Dodgers and Red Sox advance to the World Series? The story lines are endless. Sure, the return of Manny Ramirez is obvious. But there's also Derek Lowe, the winning pitcher when Boston finally ended its 86-year curse in 2004. There's Nomar Garciaparra, among the most beloved Red Sox players in franchise history. And there's Joe Torre, a fixture in Fenway Park's third base dugout over the last dozen years.

But l like the Phillies in this one. Granted, I picked the Brewers to beat Philadelphia in the division series (the only pick I missed, I might add), but the Phillies won me over. And as much talk as there's been about Manny Ramirez since he burst on to the Hollywood scene at the trading deadline, Philadelphia's Ryan Howard has been almost as good. Don't believe me? Keep reading. ...

Ramirez had 17 homers over the last two months of the regular season; Howard had 18. Ramirez had 53 RBI; Howard had 51. Ramirez hit an amazing .396 to Howard's .275, but Howard was very good in the month of September as he batted .352 while making a serious run for MVP consideration. What's more, I really like Philadelphia's pitching. Cole Hamels, Brett Myers and Joe Blanton were all lights out against Milwaukee in the NLDS, while Brad Lidge went 41 for 41 in save opportunities this year. Throw in home-field advantage and I'll take Philadelphia in six.

Now on to the ALCS, where the upstart Rays will face the defending World Series champion Red Sox. Tampa Bay's rise in the AL East has been impressive, but should not be as much of a surprise that most would lead you to believe. Remember when Curt Schilling said in August 2007 that he would consider playing for Tampa Bay given the amount of young talent it had accumulated through trades (Scott Kazmir) and the draft (B.J. Upton, Evan Longroia)? Most people rolled their eyes at Schilling's comments, but in reality he knew what he was talking about.

That said, this is where the Rays' run ends. As good as their young talent is, Boston's is just as impressive with home-grown stars Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, Jonathan Papelbon and MVP candidate Dustin Pedroia. Nobody is pitching better right now than Jon Lester, another product of the farm system who did not allow an earned run in two ALDS starts against the potent Angels.

Tampa Bay was almost unbeatable at Tropicana Field, and my guess is that it gets off to a fast start against Daisuke Matsuzaka -- assuming it is Daisuke Matsuzaka -- in Game 1 on Friday night. But ultimately I believe two starts by Lester, two starts by Josh Beckett and all that postseason experience will be too much for the Rays to overcome. Red Sox in seven.

By Tom Heleba  |  October 8, 2008; 10:21 AM ET
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Pause for a moment of happy reverie from a former Bay Area resident. Ahhh, Joe...those were the days... Okay, where was I?

As for who (other than Rays or Yankees fans) might not root for the Sox to advance, I can think of two other possibilities: those who tend to root for the Cinderella story and those who are tired of seeing the Sox-Yanks rivalry trumpeted in the media and highlighted on the game of the week to the exclusion of other clubs.

Posted by: natsfan1a | October 8, 2008 11:35 AM | Report abuse

You talk about how the Phillies were "lights out" against the Brewers, but fail to mention that the Dodgers were even more impressive against the Cubs. In three games versus the Dodgers, the Cubs only scored six runs (2.0 average) while the Brewers scored an average of 2.25 versus the Phillies.

Even if you just look at their top three starters, the Dodgers' combination of Lowe, Billingsley, and Kuroda allowed three earned runs in 19 innings. That compares very favorably with Hamels, Blanton, and Myers, who allowed three earned runs in 21 innings.

But, the Dodgers shut down the Cubs--the second-highest run-scoring team in baseball (855 runs) during the regular season. The Brewers ranked 17th in this category with 750 runs. Sounds like advantage Dodgers to me.

Posted by: Jamos | October 8, 2008 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: natsfan1a | October 8, 2008 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for talking about the Phillies. Reading this blog in recent days, you'd think it was just a Boston-Chicago blog with some Tampa Bay curiosity mixed in.

The Phillies have more loses than any professional sports team in history. Yet we're not lovable losers like the Cubs. We don't have the "Curse of the Bambino" like the Red Sox did. Over our history we have simply sucked, and we didn't have a good story to go along with it.

But a Phillies-Red Sox series would have some good history to go along with it, too. The Phillies started out as a team in Worcester, MA, back in the 1880s. They are both long-running, traditional MLB teams. Neither play in a dome or have turquoise on their uniforms.

And there is quite a contrast between their fan bases - uppity cardigan-wearing Bostonians with Hollywood stars in their stands, vs. the perpetually-drunk and raucous Philly fans who'd boo Mother Theresa (and exaggeration, for sure, but you get the idea). The football town fans who perpetually cheer E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES!, even in the midst of a good baseball season, vs. the pathetic die-hard Red Sox fans.

Posted by: Philly Phan in Phairfax | October 8, 2008 1:17 PM | Report abuse

The fans in Philadelphia are boorish louts who intimidate visiting fans to the point of requiring police intervention. I recently read a blog from a Nationals fan who went up there with his wife and their treatment at the hands of the "perpetually-drunk and raucous Philly fans" bordered on assault.

See for yourself:

Philadelphia deserves to be simply ignored, and swept out by the Dodgers in 4.

Posted by: Pitch Inside | October 8, 2008 2:15 PM | Report abuse

I am insulted by this comment about Philly. Sure the fans are raucous and yes, we drink and get drunk during games. Doesn't everybody?
But the fan reputation in Philly is largely exaggerated. Ever been to a Raiders game in Oakland or LA? Not only are they insanely drunk, they come dressed in war paint and shoulder pads! Giant stadium or Yankee stadium in New York are equally dangerous places if you are wearing an opposing teams jersey. Don't believe me? Try it sometime.
Philly gets a bad wrap. We are no worse than many other places.
The guy who wrote that blog has a bigger problem - he is a Nationals fan. He was out of his league. He should stick to minor league games and watching mascots do their whacky contests with the children between innings. Much safer.

Posted by: PhilliePhan | October 8, 2008 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Bad wrap? I thought those were cheesesteaks...

Philly gets a bad wrap.
Posted by: PhilliePhan | October 8, 2008 6:44 PM

Posted by: section 3, my couch | October 9, 2008 7:37 AM | Report abuse

Far Side cartoon:
Courtroom scene: dog lawyer, dog defendant; cat judge, all-cat jury.

Dog lawyer to court: "I ask you, is that the face of a cat killer? Cat chaser, maybe, but hey, who isn't?"

Posted by: ce | October 9, 2008 7:39 AM | Report abuse

Sorry - but no one should feel intimidated in any way when attending a public sporting event. There used to be such a thing as sportsmanship and respect - like, for fellow human beings. Guess the "perpetually-drunk and raucous Philly fans" are too good for that eh?

There is a reason Philadelphia has a 1 drink max at their football games.

And no - not everyone gets obliterated at a sporting event. Some actually come for the game.

Dodgers in 4.

Posted by: Pitch Inside | October 9, 2008 4:04 PM | Report abuse

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