Even before Pedro Martinez pitches or Sammy Sosa swings, there's a buzz about these playoffs. Baseball romantics, this really could be the year: Red Sox vs. Cubs.
And what a World Series it would be.
"Hey, didn't Bill Buckner play for both teams?" Cubs' third-string catcher Josh Paul said Monday. "I can see it now. It's Game 7, the game is tied and we go 28 innings. They just stop it and say, 'You're both champs."'
Of course, old October hands Barry Bonds, Derek Jeter and Greg Maddux might get in the way once the games begin. But for the moment, Boston and Chicago are the postseason darlings.
"Man, that would be something," said retired pitcher Dennis Eckersley, who lost with both teams in the postseason. "Obviously, you're talking about generations of losing. I mean, the problem with them both making it is that one of them would have to lose."
"Who deserves to win more? That's really hard. I'd just say that the Cubs' fans would be a lot more patient if they lost. If Boston lost, the fans would go out of their minds."
It all starts at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday afternoon, when the Minnesota Twins play New York.
Later in the day, the Florida Marlins take on Bonds and the San Francisco Giants at Pacific Bell Park. Then at night, Sosa and the Cubs face Russ Ortiz and the Braves at Turner Field.
On Wednesday, Martinez and the Red Sox will be at Oakland.
"There's just a sense of excitement going around baseball right now because of the Red Sox, the Cubs and also the Marlins getting in with their young team," Ortiz said. "The Yankees and the Braves, everyone expects them to be here every year."
"I'm sure everyone is rooting for the Cubs. They want to see that city win. Same with the Red Sox. There's so much talk about how long it's been since those teams have won everything," he said.
Boston will be trying to win its first World Series title since 1918 when it beat - naturally - the Cubs. Babe Ruth pitched the Red Sox to two victories in the six-game series.
The Cubs' last title came in 1906, before Wrigley Field and Fenway Park opened.
Only once in the last 85 years have the Cubs and Boston reached the postseason at the same time. In 1998, Chicago was swept by Atlanta in the first round while the Red Sox lost to Cleveland.
This year, the franchises with histories of losing are downright formidable.
Boston led the majors in batting, runs and total bases. The Cubs bank on their pitching, led by Game 1 starter Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.
"As a fan of the game, any time you have something like that that sparks interest, that's always a good thing," Yankees third baseman Aaron Boone said.
Added teammate Jason Giambi: "The teams that are in the postseason - the Cubbies always have great support. These playoffs should be great, a lot of TV viewers."
In fact, the attraction of the Cubs prompted a shift in the usual postseason television schedule.
Rather than have the Yankees start in prime time, the Cubs got the Tuesday night slot against Atlanta.
"Over the last month, if you listen to talk radio and the voice of the fan, the excitement this year is about 'Is this the year for the Cubs?"' Fox Sports president Ed Goren said.
Cubs reliever Mark Guthrie hopes so. He once pitched for Boston, so he understands the lure of a World Series between the clubs.
"Yeah, I've thought about it. I think there's a pretty good chance it could happen. It's not as far-fetched as it was in the past. Both teams are playing well. That would be something," he said.
Naturally, Guthrie has a rooting interest - and what he believes is a good reason.
"I think we're more lovable than the Red Sox. They haven't won it in a while, but they've been in the playoffs a lot more than we have. The history of losing is not the same."
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