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Series hardly a classic, but Pac Bell part has potential


SAN FRANCISCO - By noon yesterday, the fog had lifted off China Basin, revealing the stunning skyline of a real American city. And in that breathtaking vista is one of the most unique, charismatic ballparks in baseball - a place where one of the oldest teams in the major leagues plays.

Ah, such glory. A classic setting for the potential evolution of a classic World Series.

With its unique right-field "splash" wall and its quirky and intentionally asymmetric design, Pacific Bell Park is only the latest, greatest thing about San Francisco, home of the Giants since 1958.

There's the Golden Gate Bridge, the Coit Tower, the trolleys and cable cars, the seals barking on Fisherman's Wharf and, of course, North Beach - home of Joe DiMaggio (of the dreaded Yankees) and so many aromatic Italian espresso cafes.

This National League locale will beam out to the world a Game 3 (and Games 4 and 5) far different in look, tone and flavor than the first two Series games - and that's even before we address the use of baseball's true rule, pitchers who must do more than just pitch.

Of course, in the case of Anaheim Angels right-hander Kevin Appier and Giants right-hander Russ Ortiz - "starters" in Game 2 who both failed to make it past the third inning - maybe it's cruel to ask them to do anything more. Just try to find the plate, fellas.

Then again, the dramatic failures of Appier and Ortiz opened the floodgates on a World Series game that rocked and rolled into the Anaheim night. Who needs Disney on Parade when managers Mike Scioscia and Dusty Baker had a bullpen full of made-for-TV characters?

Look for lights-out Venezuelan reliever Francisco Rodriguez of the Disney Angels to star in his own picture: Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The 20-year-old has marquee talent - not to mention a filthy slider. K-Rod's heat paved the way for Tim Salmon's long-ball heroics on a night that had more lives than Morris the Cat.

But a classic World Series game?

Maybe Mickey Mouse slipped some of the good people of Anaheim a Mickey late Sunday night. What an incredible rush to judgment took place after Game 2 of this 98th World Series was finally, finally, over.

Some people were calling the Angels' 11-10 "comeback" win over the Giants to tie the Series a classic, one of the best World Series games in recent history.

Maybe, but only if you're comparing baseball to an all-nighter on Space Mountain - under the delirious influence of nitrous oxide. That wasn't a championship-caliber game so much as it was a thrilling but wildly imperfect roller-coaster ride.

In fact, along with the permanent ban of ThunderStix, baseball should institute a new rule that says no World Series game can ever - ever - be referred to as a classic if: a) one or more of the starting pitchers can't locate his pitches better than the fat guy on your beer league team; b) more pitchers play in the game than Carter's has liver pills, and c) the combined score for both teams exceeds the number of votes Saddam Hussein got in an Iraqi "election."

There's a difference between something fun and something classic. Fun is David Eckstein flying around the bases as if he has rocket boosters in his cleats. Classic is Cal Ripken or Derek Jeter. Fun is Barry Bonds crunching a 485-foot homer into the bleachers just for emphasis. Classic is Kirk Gibson pumping his arm as his homer wins it for the Dodgers.

However, it is only natural there is confusion over the difference between a fun game and a classic game in a World Series being broadcast by Fox, especially when Games 1 and 2 emanated from that slap-happy entertainment capital of "southern Los Angeles."

Fun is watching a kid like Rodriguez throw 26 pitches (22 for strikes) in three shutout innings. Fun is watching Reggie Sanders and David Bell blast homers to dig the Giants out of a 5-0 hole. Fun is wondering how 11 runs could be scored before the third inning. Fun is seeing Salmon (4-for-4, five times on base) smoke a ball over the fence for a dramatic, game-winning homer in the eighth inning.

But this is not the same as classic - especially in a World Series in which the pitchers say the special Series baseballs are as small and hard as something Tiger Woods launches off a tee.

Tonight, when the Giants play their first World Series game in San Francisco since the Earthquake Series in 1989 and their first Series game ever at Pac Bell, this World Series will ratchet up its odds of becoming a classic.

Setting has a lot to do with it. Pac Bell rivals Camden Yards and Safeco Field as one of the best new ballparks and gives a run to Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, two of the original gems.

Also, the history of the Giants adds a few rich layers of mood - important factors in establishing the potential for a classic. The Giants have not won a World Series since 1954, and yesterday owner Peter Magowan made it perfectly clear that being in this World Series is not enough of a prize: Winning the first in 48 years will bring the Giants full circle with their championship past.

Most important about what starts here in Game 3 tonight is that the real heart of the Series is upon us. It is here, in three games in three nights, where the plot has a chance to truly thicken, not unlike last year's World Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees.

After winning the first two at home, the D'backs went to Yankee Stadium, where they ran into the ghosts of Yankees past. The Yankees won three straight one-run games - two in extra innings - to send the Series back to the desert. There, Arizona rode Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson toward that thrilling, one-run Game 7 win for its first championship.

There are no Curt Schillings or Randy Johnsons in this World Series. There is no defending champion, either. That doesn't mean this can't take on the twists and turns of an epic Series - especially when Bonds is not going to go away.

We'll know a classic when we see it.

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