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Baseball still dawning in desert


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PHOENIX -- This is not New York. The BOB is not The Stadium. There aren't 26 World Series banners, nor has the city of Phoenix or the Valley of the Sun recently survived the trauma of war. Their pinstripes? All part of that Prince purple thing.

OK, they did not sell out some playoff games, especially those in the afternoon on 90-degree days with $40 parking and some confusion about how, when or where. Granted, Jerry Colangelo has mortgaged his tires to get to the World Series, reportedly losing something in the vicinity of $50 million this year alone -- with the fourth-highest payroll in the National League in 2001, and the second-highest committed salary list for 2002 -- to try to make baseball accepted in Arizona, and Arizona accepted as part of the baseball elite.

But there's no getting away from what Colangelo and general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. have accomplished in bringing the World Series here in four years. Ask the Astros or Angels, Senators/Rangers and Expos what it means.

Unlike Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit or Cleveland, where there are generations who grew up with their teams, the Diamondbacks have to do things in reverse. To begin with, this is a transient, growth area. Obviously, no one yet in kindergarten grew up a Diamondbacks fan; they grew up with the Cubs, Yankees, Tigers, Orioles, etc. Hockey fans here say that when the Red Wings come to town, the arena is a sea of red, and when the Cubs come to the BOB, the stands are loudest when the Cubbies strike.

So, give it time and enjoy Schill and Randy, Craig Counsell and Erubiel Durazo. Baseball in Arizona doesn't begin with the anticipated matchup of ex-Orioles Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling in Game 1 of the World Series. It may be 20 years before the 'Backs are a part of the area culture the way the Mariners are a part of Seattle's consciousness (could that have been true when Randy Johnson was traded to the M's for Mark Langston because the Expos were trying to win it all and become part of the Montreal mind-set?).

Will a Diamondbacks win in this Series have the same impact on the area as a Yankee win? Of course not. But that isn't fair. What is fair is that Arizona matches up very well against the Yankees, from the power pitching of Schilling and Johnson -- and we have seen what power pitchers do against the Yankee lineup -- to the perhaps the best bench in baseball.

There is a chance Schilling and Johnson will blow the Yankees away, but there is also a chance that Mussina and Andy Pettitte will completely shut down a Diamondbacks lineup that hasn't exactly hammered folks. Schilling and Johnson have thrown more pitches than in any season in either pitcher's career, which may or may not be important. And there are scouts who feel that the fact that most of the 'Backs have not faced Mussina, Pettitte or El Duque Hernandez is to New York's advantage.

All good theories until game time Saturday.

Most likely, this could be decided by one or two turns in the bullpen. There is one point where every series turns. This year with the Yankees, it was Derek Jeter's shovel pass to nail Jeremy Giambi at the plate in Game 3 against Oakland, and Bernie Williams' homer off Arthur Rhodes in the eighth inning of Game 4 against Seattle.

For Arizona, the turning point of the postseason came in the third game in St. Louis, when Bob Brenly unloaded his bench as Cardinals' manager Tony La Russa used Mike Matthews rather than Steve Kline, allowing the Diamondbacks to win.

And that is the scenario Arizona is looking for in this series.

If Roger Clemens and El Duque can only go five innings, the Yankee three-man bullpen -- Ramiro Mendoza, Mike Stanton, Mariano Rivera -- will be stretched. That's why the Yankees added Randy Choate's side-to-side breaking ball to the World Series roster.

Unlike American League teams, the D-Backs are built for the non-DH game. Greg Colbrunn is a .324 lifetime pinch-hitter. Durazo hit five pinch homers. Dave Dellucci hit .321 this season off the bench, Danny Bautista .350, Midre Cummings .313 after leading the AL in pinch-hits last season. Jay Bell may have been 2-for-11 as a pinch hitter, but he guarantees a patient, professional at-bat.

As a team, Diamondbacks pinch-hitters batted .278 with 14 homers, which is a whole lot different than Lou Piniella having to stick with what he's got. If Joe Torre has to get involved in bullpen roulette, the makeup of his bullpen requires him to stick with Mendoza and Stanton, not play tic-tac-toe with his left-handers and right-handers.

Arizona has a shot in this thing -- a legitimate shot. And don't start looking down your baseball purist nose at these folks wrapped in purple looking like wave after wave of grape Tootsie pops. Four years is four years. Give Colangelo and his people credit for being here while the franchise is in preschool.

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