PHOENIX, Oct. 26 (UPI) -- If good pitching beats good hitting can great pitching derail a dynasty?
The Arizona Diamondbacks, in just their fourth year of existence, put that age-old question to the test beginning Saturday night when they square off against the three-time defending champion New York Yankees in Game One of the 2001 World Series.
The Diamondbacks will not have to wait long to find out if they have what it takes to challenge a team that has won 11 straight postseason series and four of the last five World Series titles. Arizona manager Bob Brenly will start righthander Curt Schilling in Game One and lefthander Randy Johnson in Game Two.
The duo combined for 43 wins and 665 strikeouts in the regular season and actually have stepped it up a notch in the postseason, going 5-1 with a 1.24 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 51 innings. In the Division Series, it was Schilling who nearly singlehandedly eliminated St. Louis. In the National League Championship Series against Atlanta, it was Johnson who won twice -- and in the process eased concerns over his ability to win a big game.
Schilling and Johnson are veterans who do not easily rattle, but the task ahead of them is monumental. The pair are slated to start four of the seven games against a team that has won 16 of its last 17 World Series contests. A team that already is the first in nearly 40 years to reach four straight Fall Classics and could be on the verge of joining just two others with four straight World Series titles.
Along the way, New York has overcome almost every conceivable obstacle. The Yankee have rallied. They have swept. They put together a dream season in 1998 and knocked off the rival Mets in the Subway Series last year.
All New York has done this season is become the first team ever to rebound after dropping the first two games of a best-of-five series at home. That stunning reversal of fate came against the hottest team in the major leagues and earned them a berth in the American League Championship Series against the record-setting Seattle Mariners. Four wins in five games later, the Yankees now face a different beast.
This Arizona squad is not the best team New York has faced, but does present the Yankees with a unique challenge. Is their championship pedigree enough to overcome Schilling's darts on the outside corner and Johnson's unhittable fastball and slider? The Yankees are not without their own weapons, including Mike Mussina, who will oppose Schilling in Game One.
Mussina, New York's prized off-season acquisition, had a very strong first season with the Yankees and has emerged as their best pitcher in the postseason. He has been almost as good as Schilling and could open some eyes by matching the Diamondbacks' ace in the opener. Postseason veteran Andy Pettitte, a mainstay in the rotation during this remarkable run, gets the call against Johnson in Game Two. Pettitte is coming off an ALCS in which he beat the Mariners twice and earned Most Valuable Players honors.
If the defending champs have a distinct edge, it will be in the Game Three and Game Four pitching matchups as New York sends five-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens and postseason ace Orlando Hernandez to the mound respectively. Clemens will be opposed by lefthander Brian Anderson, who endured a brutal regular season, while Hernandez draws Miguel Batista, who has won a total of 24 games in his career.
Of course, Brenly does have the option of shortening his rotation and should he opt for that, he would have Schilling in Game Four and Johnson in Game Five. That could negate the Yankees edge of playing the middle three games at home and set up Schilling, who has a career postseason record of 4-1 with a 1.37 ERA, for a start in Game Seven.
Yankees manager Joe Torre, who may be doing his best postseason job ever, likely will stick with his four starters -- each of whom has done the job in a big spot for him in the past. Where Torre will have more flexibility than Brenly is in the bullpen, and nobody manages their relievers any better than New York's skipper.
Torre will have righthander Ramiro Mendoza and lefthander Mike Stanton setting up possibly the best playoff closer ever, riighthander Mariano Rivera. The success of the bullpen allows the starters to go all out from the get-go and permits Torre to take a chance with a slim lead that other managers could not afford.
Brenly's bullpen is a mess and Schilling and Johnson are both aware that if they want to assure themselves victories, a route-going effort is the safest bet. Veterans like Bobby Witt, Mike Morgan and Greg Swindell are average at best and none of the three will force Torre's hand. Closer Byung-Hyun Kim was a disaster late in the season but looked OK thus far in the playoffs. How he handles the pressure of pitching in New York will be a huge factor.
Hitting Kim takes discipline and when the Yankees are clicking, their veteran hitters know how to work a pitcher. Another factor is that Kim is righthanded and with no designated hitter in Arizona there is a good possibility that he could face a proven lefthanded bat like Paul O'Neill or David Justice in a crucial spot.
Offensively, the teams are very similar statistically and each lineup is loaded with veteran hitters. Arizona's offense revolves around No. 3 hitter Luis Gonzalez, who is a MVP candidate after a regular season in which he batted .325 with 57 homers and 142 RBI. Gonzalez has not been much of a factor in the postseason but he could play a huge role with righthanders slated to start five of the seven games.
The Yankees' predominantly righthanded lineup figures to favor Steve Finley and Mark Grace, each of whom is rendered punchless against lefthanders. Both hitters give the Diamondbacks balance in the middle of the lineup and much-needed protection for Gonzalez. In the games that Pettitte starts, Matt Williams and Reggie Sanders must produce. Both hitters are talented but have holes in their swing that can be exploited.
Tony Womack and Craig Counsell will head the top of the Diamondbacks lineup and will need to get on to allow Brenly to try and test Yankee catcher Jorge Posada's arm. Womack's effectiveness on the bases should be limited by Pettitte, who probably has the best move in the game.
Derek Jeter is the player who makes New York's offense go but he is coming off one of his worst postseason series ever and is rumored to be suffering from a bad back. He could bat in any of the first three spots in the lineup but if he truly is hurt, the Yankees will need a big series from Chuck Knoblauch and Alfonso Soriano. Knoblauch hasn't been as good as he has been convenient this postseason but Soriano is riding high after his game-winning homer in Game Four of the ALCS. He is one of the few Yankees who should be able to turn around a fastball from Schilling or Johnson.
Jeter's health is key but New York desperately needs Tino Martinez to awake from his postseason slumber. The slugging first baseman, who enjoyed a big regular season, has been abysmal in the heart of the lineup through the first two series. He did hit a three-run homer in Game Five of the ALCS but the Yankees might be forced to sit one of their proven lefthanded hitters in Game One against Schilling and that would put added emphasis on Martinez in the cleanup or No. 5 spot.
These Yankees do not have the depth that some of their other championship teams had but this year's club ran more. Neither team allows many unearned runs although tight pitching matchups can swing on one play that does not get made.
After all the analysis and rhetoric though, maybe you can boil this series down to a poker hand. Will Brenly's two aces be enough to bring Arizona its first major sports title or will New York once again come through -- and make it four of a kind.