Fresh faces abound in ’07 playoffs |

Fresh faces abound in ’07 playoffs

Ben Walker
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado
H. Rumph Jr./APPhiladelphia Phillies' Ryan Howard hopes to have a big impact on this year's playoffs.

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 to these year’s playoffs. Along with usual suspects Derek Jeter, David Ortiz and Lou Piniella, fresh faces abound this October.

Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley up the middle. Daisuke Matsuzaka starting, Joba Chamberlain relieving. Victor Martinez, Gary Matthews Jr. and Orlando Hudson, 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 the New York 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 were still waiting to find out their opponent in the best-of-five opening round. San Diego and Colorado met Monday night in an NL wild-card tiebreaker at Coors Field, and the winner was headed to Philly.

Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs visited Webb, Hudson and the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday night in the other NL series.

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 21/2 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 renew the quest for its first championship since 1948.

In Chicago, it’s been a much longer wait.

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 at Wrigley Field ” 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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