And so it begins. in earnest. sure, to some it began 230 days ago, with that first official workout for pitchers and catchers at Spring Training sites. And to some, it began 184 days ago, when the pomp and pageantry of Opening Day ushered in the 2010 season. But these were mere opening acts. For eight teams, October is the main event, the time to turn dreams into reality. For the next four weeks, the magic and mystery, hype and history taking place will attract our attention. And it all begins here on Day 1. “This is the first game of the playoffs,” said Edinson Volquez, who gets the starting nod for the Reds in Philly. “It’s something big. Really big.” So big that you might have lost track of some of storylines that rule the day. Fortunately, we’re here to hit the high points and remind you what to watch for. RANGERS AT RAYS, GAME 11:30 p.m. ET, Tropicana Field Price is right: So much was made of the statistical showdown between wins leader CC Sabathia and sabermetrics champ Felix Hernandez in the AL Cy Young race down the stretch this season that David Price’s numbers tended to get lost in the shuffle. But Price stated his Cy case with a 19-6 record and 2.72 ERA this season. And after making the first pitch of the All-Star Game, he gets to make the first pitch of the postseason. For Price, it’s a much different assignment than when he was closing games in the 2008 playoffs. It’s also a tall order, as he will be facing a potent Rangers team that led the AL with a .276 team average and finished fifth in homers and RBIs. But he’s up for it. “This is what we live for,” Price said. “This is why we worked so hard in the offseason and Spring Training and the whole year.” Mr. October? in his first career taste of October last year, Cliff Lee went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA, a 0.818 WHIP and a 5.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio in five starts for the Phillies. What will he do for an October encore? the Rangers and their fans can’t wait to find out. Traded three times since July 2009, Lee has become the game’s ultimate gun for hire. He’ll be a free agent this winter, but first he’ll try to carry the Rangers to the World Series, beginning with his Game 1 start against the Rays. “I expect to be successful, whether it be with the Rangers, the Mariners, the Phillies or the Indians,” Lee said. “Every time I take the mound, I’m confident and expect to do my job effectively.” Patience pays: if any team can tame Lee, it would appear to be the Rays, considering they were the only team to beat him three times this year. Lee was 0-3 with a 4.56 ERA in three starts against Tampa Bay. It will be interesting to see if the Rays’ patience can outlast Lee’s pinpoint control. while Lee walked just 18 batters (two intentionally) in 212 1/3 innings this season, the Rays led the AL with 672 walks. Something’s got to give. We meet again: Josh Hamilton is adding another chapter to his amazing comeback story, making his first postseason appearance. And he’s doing so against the organization that made him the first overall pick in the 1999 Draft, only to see his career come unraveled by drug addiction. “It’s amazing how full-circle it’s come,” Hamilton said. Catwalk conundrum: It’s not often that rule changes are installed this late in the year. But a special exception was made for the two highest catwalks at Tropicana Field. Formerly in fair play, the catwalks have been cleared from the postseason picture. if a high fly hits one of those catwalks in any of the upcoming games, it will be ruled dead. the move was made in large part as a response to a game in August, when the Twins beat the Rays after bouncing a ball off a catwalk. No longer will fielders have to worry about such crazy caroms or ping-pong play. But on the other hand, a batter who might have been out on a high popup might be given a second chance. Joe Maddon, who criticized the catwalks after that loss this season, admitted the rule change could lead to some strange situations. “I really got on the Trop a little bit verbally,” Maddon said. “Since then I’ve apologized to the Trop. We’re back on good terms. So even if the rules had not been changed, I thought we could have coexisted well, in spite of it. the do-over is always an interesting concept. more than likely, whoever hits the ball is going to be out or would have been out, but now he’s going to get another chance. So, from that perspective, it’s kind of awkward.” REDS AT PHILLIES, GAME 15 p.m., Citizens Bank Park The Doc is in: is Roy Halladay the best pitcher in baseball? It’s a stance with plenty of statistical backing from Halladay’s remarkable career. And in leading the NL in wins (21) and innings (250 2/3), posting a career-best 7.30 strikeout-to-walk ratio and tossing his first perfect game this season, Halladay might actually be better than ever. But for all his accomplishments, Halladay has never reached the postseason. in Game 1, he’ll take the ball in, to date, the most important start of his life, eager to fulfill his hunger for a World Series ring. “I think he’s starving, all right,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “He’s intense, and he wants it. I mean, he wants it. This guy’s for real. He loves the game, and he wants to be on a winner. He wants a ring. I think he’s going to give everything he’s got.” Steady Edinson: Opposing Halladay will be a pitcher who personifies perseverance. in the last three years, Volquez has been demoted from the big leagues to high-A ball, traded, undergone Tommy John surgery and suspended for violating the league’s policy performance-enhancing drugs. Yet here he is, pitching Game 1 for Dusty Baker’s Reds in their first postseason appearance in 15 years. Volquez made his season debut and return from surgery on July 17 and won just four games this year. But it is a testament to his pure stuff that Baker opted to pit him against Halladay in the pivotal tone-setter for the best-of-five set. “He’s a very calm and cool and goodtime-Charlie type guy that shouldn’t be affected by the pressure,” Baker said. “Especially the fact that he had pitched some championship games in winter ball in the Dominican.”
Rollin’ with Rollins? the Phillies have already gained steam as a favorite to win the World Series, but they’ll be even more dangerous if Jimmy Rollins is up to speed. that hasn’t been the case most of this season as Rollins missed 74 games because of a groin strain and a calf strain. Rollins is healthy enough to be in the Phillies’ lineup, but Manuel was mum Tuesday on whether Rollins would be at the top of that lineup in Game 1. “There’s a lot different when he’s at the top of his game hitting first,” Manuel said. “If he’s hitting good, definitely we’re a better team.” the Phillies were 54-32 with Rollins in the lineup this season and 31-6 when he scored a run. Chapmania: Ryan Howard and Chase Utley may be just like you. They’ve heard about Aroldis Chapman’s 105-mile fastball, but haven’t seen it yet. the difference is, in front of your television or your computer, you will get to see the pitch. Even in the left-side batter’s box, Howard and Utley may only hear it. So the pressure, it would appear, is on them, not the rookie Chapman. “There’s no reason for me to [feel] pressure,” Chapman said. “I don’t have pressure. I don’t feel that. And it’s true, I haven’t been in a playoff year. But if I begin to pitch in the playoffs and that time and that particular time of the game, it means that the team trusts in what I can do. I will be really proud and happy to do my job in that particular time.” Rolen vs. Philly: It’s been eight years since an unhappy Scott Rolen, convinced the Phillies weren’t doing enough to win, demanded a trade out of Philadelphia. Eight years since that Trade Deadline deal that sent him to the Cardinals. Time heals all wounds? Eh, not so much in Philly, home of some of the most passionate fans in professional sports. Rolen has been back to Philadelphia many times, of course, but never in a game of this magnitude. the boo birds should be out in full force, trying to thwart Rolen from doing what he’s done all year — providing a steady veteran presence for this young Reds team. YANKEES AT TWINS, GAME 18:30 p.m., Target Field Home cookin’: the Yankees showed last year that they certainly know how to christen a new ballpark. But Wednesday night, they’ll be facing a Twins team looking for a similarly happy housewarming. Target Field brought outdoor baseball back to the Twin Cities, and the Twins have brought October baseball to Target Field. Minnesota was an AL-best 53-28 at home this season. having lost in the Division Series to the Yankees in 2003, ’04 and ’09, they hope their home-field advantage will help them overcome historical hiccups. “We’ve played really good baseball here at home, and there’s a reason for that,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “You come to this ballpark, and every game is an event.” Big man, big pressure: With so many question marks in the Yankees’ rotation heading into October, Sabathia — already a large man at 6-foot-7, 290 pounds — somehow looms even larger. the Yankees need CC to set the tone in Game 1. Whereas Sabathia had developed a reputation for cracking under such glare while with the Indians and Brewers, he showed last year that he can shine on the game’s biggest stage. And now it’s time for him to shine again. “Winning it once makes you want to win more,” Sabathia said. “I feel like we can do it again. I’m ready to defend it. That’s what you play for. To be able to get a chance to do it again, that’s all you can ask for.” Thome time: when Jim Thome signed a one-year contract with the Twins last winter, it appeared one of the greatest pure power sluggers of our lifetime would be suiting up one last time, padding his Hall of Fame credentials. But with 25 home runs in just 276 at-bats, Thome was a savior for a Twins team that lost Justin Morneau to a concussion. And because he’s just 11 homers shy of 600 for his career and obviously still able to compete in the AL, it’s altogether conceivable Thome will be back, in Minnesota or elsewhere, in 2011. Yet as his ninth career postseason appearance dawns, Thome will be chasing a much more cherished goal — a World Series ring. if he gets it, we might be tipping our cap one last time to Thome, who would love to go out on top. the first step is facing his former Indians teammate, Sabathia, against whom Thome has just four hits. of course, all four of those hits are home runs. Twin killer: last year, Alex Rodriguez exorcised his October demons, and beating up on the Twins served as his catalyst. A-Rod had been 0-for-29 with runners on base in previous postseason appearances until he ripped a pair of two-out RBI singles in Game 1 of the ALDS. in Game 2, he hit an RBI single in the sixth and the game-tying homer off closer Joe Nathan in the bottom of the ninth. He hit another game-tying homer in the Game 3 clincher. Now that he’s a proven October commodity, A-Rod will be looking to take down the Twins yet again. No. 3 is key: both teams have their No. 3 hitters limping into October. Twins MVP Joe Mauer is dealing with left knee soreness that limited him to just five games in the season’s final two weeks. Meanwhile, mark Teixeira bruised his thumb and broke his toe in August, affecting his production. He’s hit just .220 since Sept. 1. the Yankees proved last year, when Teixeira hit just .180 in the postseason (albeit with big home runs in Game 2 of the ALDS and Game 2 of the World Series), that they can go all the way even without “Tex” on top of his game. Mauer’s status might be more crucial to the Twins’ success, given that they’re already enduring the absence of Justin Morneau. “This time of the year, everybody is kind of grinding it out,” said Mauer, “and I’m not any different.” They’ll be grinding, and we’ll be glued to the action. These are the storylines we’ll be tracking on Day 1 of the postseason, with plenty more to come on Day 2, when Tim Lincecum makes his postseason debut for the Giants and the Braves try to extend Bobby Cox’s managerial career. And so the postseason begins. And it’s only the beginning.