World Series Preview

The Texas Rangers will face the San Francisco Giants in Game 1 of the 106th World Series at AT&T Park in San Francisco tonight. It has been billed as either a pitcher exhibition — with the former Cy Young Award winners Cliff Lee of the Rangers and Tim Lincecum of the Giants meeting in the opener — or a show of sluggers — with Rangers like Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero vs. Cody Ross of the Giants. Guest host Jacki Lyden speaks with Sports Illustrated writer Pablo Torre for a preview.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Michel Martin is away.

Coming up, the story of two friends on a mission to make academic success cool.

But, first, we take a look at two not so cool teams that have surprisingly made it to the World Series: the San Francisco Giants and the Texas Rangers.

(Soundbite of baseball game)

Unidentified Man: Here comes the pitch, breaking ball, strike three called.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Man: The Rangers are going to the World Series.

LYDEN: And that was last week at Arlington stadium. And to explain how things got to this point, we've invited Pablo Torre onto the show. He's a writer for Sports Illustrated, and he's with us from our New York bureau. Pablo, welcome back to the program.

Mr. PABLO TORRE (Writer, Sports Illustrated): Thanks for having me, Jacki.

LYDEN: You know, can I actually ask you to bear with me for a moment, and this is sports after all, competition, and read something by sports writer from The Wall Street Journal that I thought was so delicious?

Mr. TORRE: Of course, go ahead.

LYDEN: Okay, this is by a fellow called Jason Gay. He's describing these teams and he says, it's okay that you can't name a single player on either club. You have the San Francisco Giants who are led by bearded guy, the other bearded guy, the other other bearded guy, as well as the pitcher with the long hair who looks 14. Then there are the Rangers who hail from a football crazed state that didn't even know it had a baseball team until six days ago. The Texas Rangers play on a gravel parking lot outside Cowboy stadium and are led by a rugged 63-year-old legend named Nolan Ryan. Oh, wait, he's the owner, or the sheriff or the game four starter.

I just was laughing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TORRE: Yeah, that's about right. I mean when I saw these teams in spring training out in Arizona, in February and March, they looked very much like what they were, which was two of the four longest suffering franchises in baseball, as long as the World Series is concerned. I mean the Texas Rangers had never sniffed the World Series in 49 years. And the San Francisco Giants had never made the World Series in San Francisco in 55 years.

And so it's really been a pretty dramatic turnaround. And what we've seen is two lineups that have really drastically changed since then - since all the prognosticators got to weigh in. The Giants lineup in the playoffs is very much not the lineup on opening day. A majority of their players were not in that starting lineup or maybe even in the organization. About nine players weren't even there. They were completely added from outside.

And what we have in San Francisco, among all of those beards, which is a completely accurate description, is a rookie catcher named Buster Posey, who's been fantastic and revolutionized that lineup. And a guy named Cody Ross who's become the NLCS MVP, who was claimed off of wavers after being released. So in San Francisco, there's a completely new picture.

And in Texas, where pitching has been the problem, they added Cliff Lee, a guy who's since entered the conversation with names like Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax for one of the greatest post season pitchers ever.

LYDEN: So, you know, I was just doing a little math here, you're talking 49 years since the Rangers have won a series, right?

Mr. TORRE: Mm hmm.

LYDEN: Fifty years for the Giants, so it's, like, this is a once in a hundred year phenomena for these two teams. What do you think that this series will look like, now that they've both improved so much over the summer?

Mr. TORRE: Well, it's the first time in baseball, in the past 15 years of baseball, where the best hitting team, and that's Texas, will compete against the best pitching team, and that's San Francisco. And so it's really an interesting picture of opposite strengths, it would seem. But what we're going to see from game one, from the beginning, is a pitcher's duel. You have Cliff Lee against Tim The Freak Lincecum, a real perfect hippy type character from San Francisco, the shy young winner in the National League for the past two years, going at it.

And then when you have these other characters, like Josh Hamilton, who may be the putative MVP in the America League; and another name, Bengie Molina, over with the Rangers, who may be the best story of all because he's guaranteed to get a World Series ring either way, actually, because he was traded from San Francisco to Texas at midseason. You sort of have a lot of interesting storylines here, but it'll start with pitching in game one.

LYDEN: Now, there's some other storylines, some other drama going on with these two teams, along the lines of redemption.

Mr. TORRE: Yeah, I mean, the number one story right now, you'd have to say, would be Josh Hamilton, who's an insane, insane tale. I mean a guy who was drafted number one overall by Tampa Bay as an 18 year old out of Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1999, was a total physical specimen, had every gift you'd want in a baseball prospect, and then gets addicted to crack cocaine.

LYDEN: And he's playing for the Rangers.

Mr. TORRE: For the Rangers. And he's wandering the earth in this time, literally sleeping in crack dens, and the backs of cars, and he'll talk openly about this. And eight years later, he resurfaces in Major League Baseball and is basically as good as people expected him to be as an 18-year-old. And to his credit, you know, he's literally found religion, he's a devout Christian and he's overcome addiction. And it's something that you haven't seen in - really in sports ever, really, an eight-year break and drugs not being able to kill the potential of a superstar.

LYDEN: You know, the teams have not been followed so much over the summer, other than by, you know, sportswriters and hometown people, of course, by ardent fans.

Mr. TORRE: Mm-hmm.

LYDEN: What about now that we've come to the series? Do you think that a lot of people are going to tune in?

Mr. TORRE: Well, we're calling it in the pages of SI is, the World Series for baseball aficionados. It's a World Series that you sort of need to have a little bit of baseball interest to get into. But once you will, I think you'll kind of enjoy it. I mean yes, it's true that they did knock off the Phillies and the Yankees, which doesn't help the ratings, but once you tune in I mean, this is going to be a very close series. And again, with characters like Josh Hamilton, with Tim Lincecum, with Cliff Lee, this are the names that I think the national audience will be familiar with, if they're not already, by the time this is done.

LYDEN: Pablo Torre is a writer for Sports Illustrated. He joined us from our New York bureau.

Pablo, thanks so much. And thanks to radio station KRLD for that audio - the victory audio you heard up top.

Thank again, Pablo.

Mr. TORRE: Thanks, Jacki.

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