Half of the field for the 106th World Series was set Friday night, when the Texas Rangers advanced to the final dance by dethroning the defending champion New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. Now here comes the other half. The Giants and the Phillies climb into the ring at Citizens Bank Park for the sixth round of their National League Championship heavyweight fight Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET.
The Giants are ahead on points -- three games to two -- as they send left-hander Jonathan Sanchez to the middle of the diamond circle to square off against Philadelphia right-hander Roy Oswalt.A Giants win returns them to the World Series for the first time since 2002, giving them another crack at a title they have not won since 1954. A Phillies win sets up Game 7, sports' ultimate theatre, that one game, those three hours, that define elation and dejection. A full house of Philly fanatics in the stands, plus one green Phanatic, will provide the emotional wave the defending NL champs hope to surf to that decisive game. That will be a necessary step for the Phillies to keep alive their mission of appearing in a third consecutive World Series, which, courtesy of the Rangers' knockout of the Yankees, will not be a rematch of last year's contestants. The Phillies, as duly documented, are trying to become the NL's first three-peat champion since the 1942-44 Cardinals. Rare enough. But now they would become the first NL team to run into three different opponents in three consecutive World Series, following their Classics in 2008 against Tampa Bay and in 2009 against the Yankees. It will be either that, or one team that had never before even appeared in the World Series in its 49-year history -- the Rangers -- against the Giants, who have not won it in 56 years. Before it gets to that point, the Giants and the Phillies have to settle their differences. Game 6 will reenact the Game 2 confrontation won by Oswalt to knot the series at a game apiece at the time. Now he and Sanchez are back at the scene of that prime duel -- the Phillies led, 2-1, before breaking out for four more runs against the Giants bullpen for the 6-1 victory -- following the teams' three-games stay in San Francisco. They didn't leave the hearts of their lineups there. Cody Ross -- he hit only one home run off Oswalt in Game 2, in contrast to the two he got off Roy Halladay -- and cosmic rookie catcher Buster Posey will look to get in more blows than the Phillies' Jayson Werth and Ryan Howard, the cleanup hitter who has been having Vladimir Guerrero's quiet LCS. Vlad went off Friday night, and Howard is ticking. Sanchez, relatively unheralded in the shadows of right-handers Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, arguably was San Francisco's hottest hand down the stretch. And Saturday night, he has a weighty assignment. Reversing history is always a burden: All-time, the Giants are 2-8 in Game 6s of seven-game series; and if it goes past that, they are 0-5 in Game 7s. "I like the way my team has handled everything thrown at them," said San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy, "and they'll go out there and give it their all. And that's all you can ask." "[I'll] just try to come here and close the game out and go home with a win," Sanchez said confidently. "It's going to be great to get to the World Series." Oswalt, unshaken by his losing relief turn in Game 4, is determined to deny the Giants any shortcuts to that World Series. "I'm going to try to do everything possible to get to that final game," he said. The Phillies had their first "final game" on Thursday. They won it, 4-2, to bring it to this "final game." Now they will try to make it to the "final game." The Giants will take the field with champagne on ice. Both teams will go out there with nerves on edge. Sanchez and Oswalt will try to put pitches on the black. Bochy related how the Giants charter flight's takeoff from San Francisco had been delayed by some chief executive traffic at the airport. President Obama's wings had priority. "We had to wait for Air Force One," said Bochy. They are still waiting for The One. "That last one's always the toughest to get," Bochy said. Maybe tonight. If not, maybe Sunday night. It will be a great show, an intense showdown. No maybe about it.