After all the drills, the extra batting practice, the endless drawn-out spring training lectures on the simple game you play called baseball (the ones you mostly sit through to make you earn your spring expense money)...
After a grueling 162-game schedule, followed by two rounds of playoffs...
Now, it's best-of-7. At stake? Which team will be the best in 2002 and have a lifetime of memories that grow in stature every year removed from the series. Which team will wear the ring. Which team may never come this way again. Who will be the hero? And who will be the goat?
Thank God I never have to be the goat. My teammates and I, 12 years ago, swept the mighty Oakland A's in the World Series. And I can brag all the way to my grave.
Both of this year's teams are solid. They have good starters, good bullpens, great defenses and great offenses. But where do we go to gain just enough of an edge that one error, one mistake pitch can propel a team to the top of the baseball world?
In a word ... Scouting.
When I was traveling during the Braves-Giants Division Series, I befriended a lot of scouts from the Diamondbacks and the Cardinals. They were the advance teams, the scouts who would try and help their clubs if they advanced to the next round. It reminded me how huge a role they play in even the smallest of areas, because great scouting can be that edge a team is looking for.
As a pitcher, what I wanted to know was simple. Who was swinging a hot bat. And who was going to be guy I might face with the game on the line.
For this series, that's Barry Bonds. If the Angels do what I think they are going to do -- and should do -- Barry won't get a pitch to hit the whole series. I just wouldn't let Barry be a factor. I would make the rest of the Giants team beat you, and if they do, I tip my hat to them. But Barry doesn't get a pitch to hit.
My late father taught me when I played in Babe Ruth League: Never let the mashers beat you. With that in mind, how's Benito Santiago swinging? J. T. Snow? Reggie Sanders has struggled, right?
Some other facts for the managers to consider:
How did Adam Kennedy hit three home runs in one game, when he only hit 23 homers in 1,700 previous big league at bats?
If the game is on the line, should we walk the number 8 hitter to get a pinch hitter, knowing the Giants don't have a deep bench?
When will The Giants hit and run? How about The Angels?
Do The Angels start the runners with one out and 3-2 on the hitter?
How should we play Bonds if we pitch to him? Where is he hitting the ball in the last 2 weeks?
The Giants allowed the fewest home runs in the majors this year with 116. The Angels were 17th with 169 home runs hit. But that stat doesn't prevent the Angels batters from hitting five home runs in Game 1.
The bottom line: You can't dwell too much on the other team's strengths as much as you have to exploit their weaknesses.
Take our series with the A's 12 years ago. As a pitching staff, we decided to let Ricky Henderson, the A's leadoff hitter at the time, hit, and steal bases and do his best stuff. At the same time, we decided to attack Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco with high fastballs and hard breaking balls. Scouts had told us they had problems with those pitches and we were very successful with that strategy, not wasting energy on Ricky but using it against the big hammers.
We swept Oakland.
In this series, both teams are great at scoring runs -- the Angels 4th in the big leagues with 851 this year and the Giants plated 783, good enough for 11th. But better yet, they were both awesome at not giving up runs -- the Giants gave up 616 (No. 2 in the majors) and the Angels gave up 644 (No. 4). And the Angels allowed those 169 home runs, but plenty were of solo shots.
The Angels are also very good at putting the ball in play, .282 batting average, best in the big leagues, and fewest strikeouts as a team (805). That's 155 fewer then the Giants and almost 400 fewer then the Yankees.
Neither teams gives up extra outs -- the Angels made just 87 errors, the Giants 90.
Both teams can pitch -- the Giants were No. 2 in the show with a team ERA at 3.54; the Angels were No. 4 at 3.69, just a hair worse then the A's great staff.
So what do we know?
Both Teams deserve to be here. Both teams will be tough to beat. The bad thing? Someone has to lose.
I congratulate both Mike Scioscia of the Angels and Dusty Baker of the Giants. Both managers have done great jobs preparing their teams to play everyday and have two class teams. I know it's a team effort from the front office to scouting to the minor league systems -- every one has helped get both teams this far.
But now, it's time to play it on the field. Good luck, and may the best team win. This series promises to be one of the most fun I can remember watching.
Former Cincinnati Reds reliever Rob Dibble is an ESPN baseball analyst and a co-host of "The Dan Patrick Show" on ESPN Radio. Dibble, who was co-MVP of the the 1990 NLCS, contributes regularly to ESPN.com.