Thus far, October Greatness trumps One Great October

For the first time in a long time, the Phillies find themselves on the wrong side of history, battling not just the New York Yankees, but precedent.

They are down three games to one, staring elimination in the face, needing to win three straight games to preserve their dreams of a historic repeat.

"It's like the NCAA tournament," righthander Chad Durbin said last night, where many Phillies players bore the looks of men who, for the first time, caught a glimpse of their own mortality.

Except in many ways, it isn't. The Phillies must beat the same team three times in a row. They must beat a squad of hardened professionals, many of whom have been here before.

The Phillies entered this World Series confident bordering on cocksure. They spoke of destinies and dynasties and favorable mojo. But over the past week, they have been transformed from teacher to pupil, receiving a first-hand lesson in the difference between October greatness and one great October.

Is it a coincidence that the difference between the Yankees and the Phillies this World Series has been three players with a combined 18 Fall Classics under their belts?

Good luck deciding which one, in the event of a New York win, should be MVP -- because as clutch as Alex Rodrgiuez has been, it will be a crime of a member of the Yankees' core trio does not come away with the honor.

Catcher Jorge Posada is 4-for-13 with three RBI. His pinch-hit RBI single in Game 2 gave the Yankees a badly-needed insurance run. His two-run single last night put the ninth inning out of reach. And his handling of the Yankees pitching staff, his repeated trips to the mound to steady the team's stars, has been crucial.

Short stop Derek Jeter has hit safely in all four games. He has reached base eight times in 18 plate appearances. He has just one RBI, but it came in a big moment last night.

And what about Mariano Rivera, who turned Game 2 into a seven-inning game, and recorded two more saves in Games 3 and 4?

What does real postseason experience brings? It brings the ability to battle through the inability to command ones pitches, averting a big inning and gutting ones way through six innings. Andy Pettitte did this in Game 3, while last year's postseason ace, Cole Hamels, crumbled after four.

It brings the awareness Johnny Damon displayed in bolting from second to an uncovered third in the ninth inning of Game 4, drastically altering the make-up of a game the Phillies had just tied at 4-4 in the previous half inning.

The good news for the Phillies is that the comeback they will try to complete has been accomplished 11 times before. The bad news is that it has not occurred on 63 other occasions.

The last time a team overcame a 3-1 deficit in the World Series was 1985, when the Royals overtook the Cardinals. The last time a team overcame a 3-1 deficit while winning the last two on the road was in 1968, when the Tigers did it against the Cardainls.

Six teams have overcome 3-1 deficits in a seven-game series in the LCS -- The 2007 and 2004 Red Sox (over the Indians and the Yankees), the 2003 Marlins (over the Cubs), the 1996 Braves (over the Cardinals), the 1986 Red Sox (over the Angles) and the 1985 Royals (over the Blue Jays). The 2004 Red Sox, 2003 Marlins and the 1985 Royals all did it by winning the last two games on the road.

The 1979 Pirates, 1958 Yankees and the 1925 Pirates overcame 3-1 deficits in the World Series, with the Yankees doing it on the road.

Tonight, Cliff Lee gets the first shot at staving off elimination. If he succeeds, Pedro Martinez will try it against Andy Pettitte tomorrow, followed by Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton and Lee and anybody else who might realistically be expected to record an out in Game 7.

Win or go home.

It is all that remains.