BOSTON -- There is supposed to be little drama remaining now that the Boston Red Sox have disposed of their American League rivals and are ready to take on a little-known, small-market club in the 103rd World Series, which starts in Boston tonight.
That was the feeling last year, too, when the Detroit Tigers survived the ultra-competitive AL and were so certain to be World Series champions that one major newspaper jokingly predicted Detroit would win the best-of-seven matchup in three games.
The St. Louis Cardinals didn't get the memo and won in five. It was the third time in six World Series that the National League, considered the weaker league, has been victorious. This year's NL participant, the Colorado Rockies, have won 21 of their past 22 games and all seven of their playoff games - and are still significant underdogs to win it all.
But the Red Sox aren't buying into that.
"I don't care about the perception," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "Just to make this really clear, if I were betting on it, I would care."
Then, adding a postscript to keep him a Boston Marathon away from controversy, he stressed: "I'm not [betting on it].
"It doesn't ever enter into who we're playing, the perception of how a series will go," Francona said. "What's on our radar is [tonight's] game."
The safe money, of course, is on the Red Sox, who won 96 games in the regular season, swept the solid Los Angeles Angels in the Division Series and then outlasted the Cleveland Indians in a seven-game AL Championship Series.
They had the second-best pitching in the majors this season (a 3.87 ERA, behind only the San Diego Padres), two of the game's most feared sluggers in David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, and a load of experience that includes eight players who helped Boston win the 2004 World Series.
That should give the Red Sox extra confidence, right?
"I don't really think that there is any advantage at all," said Boston's Game 1 starter, Josh Beckett, who won the World Series in 2003 with the Florida Marlins. "Everybody has experience at playing baseball."
The Rockies, who have only two members of their 25-man roster who have played in a World Series and none who has won it, seem undeterred.
"We didn't get here to get close, to finish second," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "We believe in who we are and what we are, and this is a tremendous challenge that we are looking forward to."
At least one break has already fallen the Rockies' way. Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, a 17-game winner this season who was a possibility to start games 2 and 6, has been scratched for the Series because of shoulder and back inflammation. It was Wakefield who posted the Red Sox's only win against the Rockies in a three-game series this June at Fenway Park, the only meeting between the two in 2007.
Wakefield said he felt he could make one start this week but did not think he'd be able to pitch a second game - and that would have limited Francona's options.
"I just don't think it is fair for the other 24 guys on this team that I go out there and maybe I pitch well and maybe I don't and then I'm not available for the rest of the Series," Wakefield said.
Francona has not named a Game 4 starter - Curt Schilling will pitch Game 2 and Daisuke Matsuzaka Game 3 - but it's likely Jon Lester will get the start.
Francona also said he's not sure what he'll do in games 3 to 5, when the Series moves to Colorado and the designated hitter is not in use. One of three key offensive cogs for the Red Sox, Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis or Mike Lowell, won't start in those games.
Despite those advantages, the Rockies have their own mountain to climb. Because of sweeping two straight series, they haven't played in eight days heading into tonight. They've had simulated games and workouts, but it's not the same as real action.
"The more emphasis you put on something, the more power you give it. We haven't given the layoff a lot of power, a lot of emphasis," Hurdle said. "We will not apologize for winning quickly."
The Rockies won't apologize if they continue their amazing late-season streak and win the World Series, either. Even though it'll ruin the common perception that they are playing over their heads.
"It's the biggest stage in baseball," Rockies Game 1 starter Jeff Francis said. "For a lot of young guys on this team, as well as myself, it is something you have thought about a lot and we're going to enjoy it. We're going to have a lot of fun."
BY THE NUMBERS
21 Number of games the Rockies have won in thier past 22.
1.78 The ERA of Boston ace JOsh Beckett in nine career postseason games.
.578 The on-base percentage of Boston's Manny Ramirez in 10 playoff games this year.
10 Number of games the Rockies have won in a row heading into Game 1 of the World Series, fourth most all-time.
11 The number of total earned runs the Rockies scored against Beckett and Curt Schilling in two games (and 10 innings) in June