For the New York Yankees, the familiar first rustlings of their favorite week.
For the Arizona Diamondbacks, the beginning of the end.
Saturday night in Phoenix.
First batter of the World Series.
Chuck Knoblauch versus Curt Schilling
Strike. Ball. Foul down the left-field line. Foul behind first base. Ball. Ball. Foul to the screen. Grounder to second.
Another ordinary out. Another Yankee success.
After getting worked for eight pitches by Knoblauch, Schilling will throw seven to Derek Jeter, five to David Justice, six to Bernie Williams, four to Tino Martinez.
By the end of the first inning, Schilling will have given up no runs, on no hits, and it will mean nothing.
Because he will have thrown as many pitches as he sometimes throws in three innings.
The Yankees are not a sudden-impact team. They are a time-release team. They work slowly, they work quietly, they work all day.
They don't wallop you, they wear you out.
Murderer's Row has become Rope-a-Dope Row.
By the end of the sixth inning, Schilling will still be throwing a shutout, but the most important zeros will be on the gauge on his right arm. He will have thrown 115 pitches, and he will be whipped.
Those who haven't followed the Diamondbacks will be stunned to learn there is nobody in the bullpen warming up.
One inning later, when Greg Swindell is finally brought in to replace the drained Schilling, they will understand why.
The Yankees will score a couple of quick runs, win the game, and debunk the one belief of those who think the Diamondbacks actually have a chance to survive this World Series.
The Yankees can't beat Diamondback aces Schilling and Randy Johnson four times?
The Yankees don't have to beat them.
They simply have to exhaust them.
At which point, they will beat Arizona's struggling bullpen.
For the Diamondbacks, it's not about Schilling and Johnson. It's about Swindell, and Mike Morgan, and Bobby Witt, and Brian Anderson.
For the Yankees, it's never about game-winning homers. It's about game-twisting patience.
It has been like this for the past three Octobers. For Halloween, the Yankees dress up like fungo hitters and hand out foul balls.
It's always the same. The games will last 3 1/2 hours. The opposing pitchers will get impatient. The opposing fielders will get bored.
Eighth inning, a dumb pitch followed by a dumb error followed by a 10-hop single up the middle by somebody named Sojo, and the Yankees will win again.
If it lasts that long.
Sometimes, the opposing starting pitcher is driven to distraction, and to the bench, by the third commercial break.
In 1998, Andy Ashby won 17 games for the San Diego Padres.
Against the Yankees in that World Series, he gave up 10 hits in 2 2/3 innings.
In 2000, the New York Mets' Mike Hampton was the NLCS most valuable player.
And the proud owner of a 6.00 ERA in the next series against the Yankees.
The first game of that Subway Series was the most appropriate of the Yankees' Ruthian World Series run.
Even at 12 innings, it lasted an amazing four hours and 51 minutes, the longest World Series game by time in history.
And in the Yankees' most important at-bat, the batter never even hit the ball fair.
With one out in the ninth and trailing by a run, Paul O'Neill drew a 10-pitch walk from Armando Benitez that led to the tying run that led to the comeback win.
One can imagine O'Neill drawing a similar walk from Schilling, who is having the best pitching postseason since the Dodgers' Orel Hershiser in 1988.
In that World Series, Hershiser's style was perfect foil for Oakland's Bash Brothers.
There seems to be no consistent remedy for the Yankees' Righteous Brothers.
They are as fundamentally perfect as any team in postseason history, and at least as comfortable.
For the Diamondbacks, some of whom are openly excited about visiting Yankee Stadium for the first time, this feels like a giant wobbly stage. For the Yankees, it is their living room.
The only way for the Diamondbacks to fight this aura is to grab an early lead. But who among them has such reach or grip?
Only five members of the team have been to a World Series. And their power hitters, the guys who can give them that early lead, seemed rattled even by NLCS.
Luis Gonzalez, their 57-homer guy, batted .211 with one meaningless homer.
Reggie Sanders, their 33-homer guy, batted .118 with one homer.
Their best player was Craig Counsell, a slap-hitting, smart second baseman. The best thing that can said about him is, well, he would be a good Yankee.
It's too bad, really.
It's cool to have a World Series dressed in purple. The veteran, unaffected Diamondback clubhouse is filled with good guys and good stories. The dominating images in Gonzalez' locker are the photos of his triplets. In conversations with outfielder Tony Womack, the usual theme is his respect for his late father.
Schilling and Johnson talk about each other in the light, self-deprecating tones of an old married couple.
The criticized bullpen laughs at its perception. The 5-foot-10 Counsell makes fun of his size.
And Mark Grace, with his hilarious baseball lingo and everyman attitude, has been best described as The Great American Ballplayer.
These Diamondbacks are worthy of our cheers.
But these Yankees, who will win this series in five games, are worthy of our awe.
Pitch, after pitch, after pitch
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