The New York Yankees are seeking their fourth consecutive World Series championship. Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Curt Schilling appears to be the main obstacle.
Mike Mussina and the Yankees look to continue their run to yet another title when they take on the major leagues' hottest postseason pitcher in Game 1 of the World Series at Bank One Ballpark.
Schilling has been virtually unhittable during this postseason, going 3-0 with an 0.67 ERA while tossing three complete games.
He beat the St. Louis Cardinals 2-1 in the decisive fifth game of the NL division series and shut down the Atlanta Braves 5-1 in Game 3 of the championship series, putting Arizona ahead to stay as it won the series in five games.
Dating to a five-hit shutout he tossed in Game 5 of the 1993 World Series against the Toronto Blue Jays while with the Philadelphia Phillies, Schilling has gone the distance in four straight postseason starts.
"I don't know what else you can say at this point," Arizona manager Bob Brenly said of his Game 1 starter.
"The cream rises to the top. I mean, whatever cliche you want to throw on it, we've talked about it throughout the postseason. When the light seems to be shining the brightest, when people expect the most from him, when we expect the most from him, he goes out there and exceeds even what we expected."
Schilling will start at least twice in the series and possibly a third time if the Diamondbacks fall behind early in the series - something the pitcher has not had to worry about in either of the first two rounds.
With left-hander Randy Johnson scheduled to pitch Game 2 on Sunday, the Yankees know they could find themselves in an early hole in the series.
Mussina will get the first shot at making sure that doesn't happen.
The right-hander was New York's most effective starter during the final five weeks of the regular season, showing why the Yankees signed him to a big free-agent contract during the offseason.
Mussina saved the Yankees from an early end to their championship run in Game 3 of the ALDS, tossing seven innings in a 1-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics. The win sparked an unprecedented comeback from an 0-2 deficit after New York had dropped the first two games at home.
In Game 2 of the ALCS at Seattle, Mussina allowed two runs in six strong innings as New York held on for a 3-2 victory over the Mariners. The Yankees went on to win the series, and their 38th pennant, in five games.
Mussina has become accustomed to performing with little run support over the past two seasons and has faced some of baseball's best pitchers, matching up with aces such as Pedro Martinez, Mark Mulder and Greg Maddux in 2001.
He will likely have to be at his best again Saturday night, as Schilling should be primed for Arizona's first World Series game.
"Moose will have to have the same approach as against Pedro Martinez," Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre said. "There are not going to be a lot of runs. He's been training for this all year because we haven't scored him a lot of runs."
Mussina had a 3.15 ERA during the regular season - second best in the AL - and is 4-1 with a 2.29 ERA in eight career playoff starts.
"When you get to a seven-game series, every game is important," Mussina said. "It doesn't matter if you start Game 1, 2 or 4. All of those are important. There's not any added pressure pitching Game 1. It's pretty exciting. I'm just glad (manager Joe Torre) had enough confidence in me."
Andy Pettitte, the ALCS MVP, will oppose Johnson in Game 2 on Sunday as New York tries to become the first team to win four straight championships since the 1949-53 Yankees won a record five in a row.
The Diamondbacks are appearing in the World Series in their fourth year of existence, surpassing the previous mark established by the Florida Marlins, who won the World Series in their fifth year in 1997.
"Well, I think people are excited to see Arizona because they're new," Yankees outfield David Justice said. "They might not be excited to see us, but they're excited to see Arizona."
HOW THEY GOT HERE:
Yankees - AL East champion; beat Oakland Athletics 3-2 in division series; beat Seattle Mariners 4-1 in championship series.
Diamondbacks - NL West champion; beat St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 in division series; beat Atlanta Braves 4-1 in championship series.
Chuck Knoblauch lf (.250 avg., 38 SBs),
Derek Jeter ss (.311, 21 HRs, 74 RBIs, 110 runs, 27 SBs),
Justice rf (.241, 18, 51),
Bernie Williams cf (.307, 26, 94),
Tino Martinez 1b (.280, 34, 113),
Jorge Posada c (.277, 22, 95, 18 passed balls),
Scott Brosius 3b (.287, 13, 49, 22 errors),
Alfonso Soriano 2b (.268, 18, 73, 43 SBs),
Mussina p (1-for-7, 1 RBI).
Tony Womack ss (.266 avg., 3 HRs, 30 RBIs, 28 SBs, .307 on-base),
Craig Counsell 2b (.275, 4, 38),
Luis Gonzalez lf (.325, 57, 142, 128 runs, 36 2Bs, 419 total bases),
Steve Finley cf (.275, 14, 73),
Reggie Sanders rf (.263, 33, 90),
Mark Grace lb (.298, 15, 78),
Matt Williams 3b (.275, 16, 65),
Damian Miller c (.271, 13, 47),
Schilling p (.133, 0 HRs, 1 RBI in 83 ABs).
YANKEES PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Mussina (17-11, 3.15 ERA). The right-hander is unbeaten in his last nine starts dating to Aug. 22. He is 6-0 during that stretch, allowing one run or fewer in all but two outings. Mussina has never faced Arizona.
DIAMONDBACKS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Schilling (22-6, 2.98 ERA). The right-hander has won seven straight decisions and is unbeaten in 10 starts since Aug. 21. He is 1-2 with a 4.66 ERA in seven career appearances, including four starts, against the Yankees.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Yankees - New York has won 16 of its last 17 World Series games, and is 16-3 overall in the Fall Classic under Torre. ... RF Justice is 10-for-28 with 4 HRs and six walks against Schilling during the regular season, but went 0-for-5 with one walk against him in the 1993 NLCS. ... SS Jeter, last year's World Series MVP, has a .342 average (26-for-76) in 19 World Series games. ... 3B Brosius has a .391 average in World Series play, but is hitting .121 in this postseason. ... C Posada has a .475 on-base average in these playoffs. ... SS Soriano is hitting .303 in the postseason. ... RHP Ramiro Mendoza has a 0.93 ERA through the first two rounds. ... RHP Mariano Rivera's career 0.74 postseason ERA is the lowest in history.
Diamondbacks - 2B Counsell has a team-high seven RBIs in the playoffs. Counsell, who scored the World Series-winning run for the Marlins in 1997, earned NLCS MVP honors by batting .381 with four RBIs against the Braves. ... CF Finley is hitting a team-best .364.
The Diamondbacks led the NL in fielding percentage during the regular season and have not given up an unearned run in the postseason. ... RHP Schilling was 1-1 with a 3.52 ERA in two starts during the '93 World Series.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Yankees - 44-37 on the road in regular season, 4-0 postseason.
Diamondbacks - 48-33 at home in regular season, 3-2 postseason.