Sweet ride set to start

By: By BEN WALKER, AP Baseball Writer
By: By BEN WALKER, AP Baseball Writer

Now, ready for the playoffs?

Holliday slid home headfirst Monday night in the 13th inning with the batting title, RBI crown and Colorado's first postseason berth since 1995. The Rockies filled out the October field with a 9-8 win over San Diego in a tiebreaker for the NL wild card.

And it fit that the Rockies won this prelude. They became one of a record seven different teams to reach the playoffs this year, leaving the New York Yankees as the only repeater.

"It's been an incredible run from game 1 to game 163," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "This is just a snapshot of what we've been through."

So Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki, get ready to join Holliday for Game 1 in Philadelphia.

Grady Sizemore, fire up that '66 Lincoln convertible. Brandon Webb, show off your sinker. Ryan Howard, swing for those fences.

The sweet ride starts Wednesday, and there's a new mix all over. Because along with usual suspects Derek Jeter, David Ortiz and Lou Piniella, fresh faces abound this fall.

Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley up the middle. Daisuke Matsuzaka starting, Joba Chamberlain relieving. Victor Martinez, Gary Matthews Jr. and Dustin Pedroia, all set to make their postseason debuts.

Plus, for the first time in a while, there's no clear-cut favorite.

"Nobody lost 100. Nobody won 100. So I think the whole league is a lot closer than maybe it used to be," Boston manager Terry Francona said Monday, surveying the AL landscape.

"I don't know that that's good for us trying to win games, but it's good for baseball. I think you've got four really good teams because to get through the American League, we beat each other up so much, that I think it's going to be really good baseball," he said.

And how's this for a new look? Given a choice of which teams to feature in prime time, first-year TV outlet TBS picked the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, rather than the Yankees.

It all begins Wednesday afternoon, with Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia hosting its first postseason game. The Phillies took advantage of the New York Mets' historic collapse to make their first playoff appearance since 1993.

"Lo and behold, the National League East belongs to one team and one city, and that's the City of Brotherly Love, baby," Rollins said during a rally Monday at City Hall.

Rollins, Howard, Utley and the Phillies will play Colorado in the best-of-five opening round.

Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs visit Webb and the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday night in the other NL series. Arizona won the West despite losing Randy Johnson, Orlando Hudson and Chad Tracy to season-ending injuries.

"Any time you play the Cubs, it can be a traveling circus," Arizona manager Bob Melvin said. "There is a lot of excitement."

The AL side was to open Wednesday night at Fenway Park with John Lackey and the Los Angeles Angels facing Josh Beckett and the Red Sox.

Matsuzaka will start Game 2 for Boston and Curt Schilling will pitch Game 3 at Anaheim. The Red Sox held back Schilling to give him extra rest.

"We're trying to gear up for 2 1/2 or three weeks of starts," Francona said.

Alex Rodriguez, Jeter, Chamberlain and the Yankees were to open Thursday at Cleveland. Chien-Ming Wang was set to start against Indians ace C.C. Sabathia.

Sizemore is hoping for a breakout series. A fan favorite at Jacobs Field for his all-out style, he's also popular for the way he gets to the ballpark -- his classic, robin's-egg blue car.

Manager Eric Wedge and the Indians are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2001. Cleveland came within a double-play grounder of winning the 1997 World Series, and renews the quest for its first championship since 1948.

This year, the Indians will count on closer Joe Borowski. He led the league with 45 saves, many of them shaky.

"No, he doesn't come in and strike out the world," Cleveland starter Paul Byrd said. "But he comes in and gets the job done."

At Wrigley Field, they've gone even longer without a crown.

The Cubs were within five outs of reaching the 2003 World Series when bad pitching, bad fielding and a bad break -- fan Steve Bartman deflecting a foul fly -- got in the way. Be it because of the Billy Goat curse or whatever, the Cubs haven't won the title since 1908.

Ever optimistic, several thousand fans showed up on a rainy Monday for a downtown rally. Harry Caray's widow, Dutchie, led the singing of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," Billy Williams spoke to the crowd in person and fellow Hall of Famer Ernie Banks visited by video.

"We've waited a long time," Williams said.


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