'Experts' must be surprised with Phillies' Game 1 win

Chase Utley's hit two home runs off of Yankees starter C.C. Sabathia to help propel the Phillies to a 1-0 World Series lead. (Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer)

NEW YORK - The two home runs by Chase Utley, bolts in the night, pierced the darkness, the mist, and maybe the aura most of all. Because as the proceedings commenced, this was the World Series where all of the experts said they respected the Phillies but almost none of them thought they could win.

The manner of Cliff Lee - get the ball, pitch the ball, quickly, intensely, relentlessly - just wears people down, impressing you physically and maybe intellectually now as well. Because it seems impossible, when you think about it, that a team fronted by this kind of starting pitcher - and a reigning world champion as well - could be so lightly regarded in a series against the Yankees.

But, well, what now? The Phillies have snatched the first game of the series, 6-1. They have come into Yankee Stadium and beaten the great CC Sabathia, just as they beat him last year when he was with Milwaukee. They have taken the homefield advantage. They have wobbled the Yankees and their mystique. Oh, and the team that won Game 1 ended up winning the last six World Series.

There are miles to go, yes, but the Phillies have made a defining statement here. The only question is, why could so few people see it coming?

"It's not too relevant to us what other people think," reliever Brad Lidge was saying after the game, not really wanting to engage in the conversation, saying the exact right thing.

"We know what we can do," he said.

It is easy to play the they-don't-get-no-respect card. That isn't what this is meant to be, not exactly. But the expert analysis leading up to the start of this series has been fascinating and mystifying. Never has the title "defending champion," with all of its connotations of excellence and accomplishment, seemed to mean so little.

The Yankees had only one obvious advantage over the Phillies - closer Mariano Rivera - yet 91 percent of the expert types doing the predicting on ESPN.com concluded that the Yankees would win. In case you were counting, that is 21 out of 23 experts. The Phillies match the Yankees bat-for-bat, they have deeper starting pitching, they have more World Series experience, they have been at least as impressive as the Yankees in the postseason so far. The only difference is Rivera and the fact that the Phillies stumbled at the end of the regular season, which seems like about 9 months ago now, yet they can't seem to get any acknowledgment at all.

The predictions were for a great series, for a competitive series, maybe for a classic series, mostly for six or seven games. It all was done in the most respectful of tones. But in the end, almost nobody could see the most clutch team in recent Philadelphia memory pulling out the series in the end.

Such is the power of New York, of the Yankees, of the pinstripes. The history and the legacy are clear and unrivaled, and it is all true. But baseball isn't about history or legacy. It is about two teams in 2009 - because, you know, Babe Ruth is dead. Now the Phillies have the advantage and the Yankees are the team facing the pressure in Game 2.

"Yeah, but I think they're too good a team," centerfielder Shane Victorino said, acknowledging the pressure shift. "I'm not going to say that, oh, no,

they're going to panic. But the pressure is on them, meaning that, hey, they have to come out tomorrow and get a W. But so are we.

"We want to get that W. We want to be up 2-0 and take full advantage of being 2-0 and going back to your home field."

The great dramatic play by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel - Pedro Martinez pitching in Game 2 - now will unfold before us all. Last night was a very Phillies victory: power, pitching, and then a kind of relentless battering at the end. They showed everyone what they are about. It was a very clear picture.

"We got the W," Victorino said. "I can't answer for them and how they felt . . . It's just one game. It's a seven-game series . . . I'm not going to say that, all of a sudden, we've got the momentum on our side. We'll take the W and that's what it's about. They're professionals. They're a good team. They didn't have the best record in baseball for no reason."

And the Phillies do not have that big gold monstrosity in their trophy case for no reason. Someday, maybe soon, this will dawn on people.

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