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'Second series' features first-rate teams

First-rate teams in 'second series'

PHOENIX -- In Chicago, they used to call the old comedy group "Second City." That's because Chicago itself was always considered second best, to New York anyway.

Now, the National League has its own version. Call it the "Second Series," the second best in the championship round behind the American League, anyway, minus the late, great John Candy.

"What, are the Yankees out of it?" injured Arizona second baseman Orlando Hudson said on Wednesday as he surveyed his own clubhouse. "That's why all you media guys are here. I see."

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The Diamondbacks and the Rockies open their own cozy little NL Championship Series on Thursday at Chase Field, a series that isn't getting much notice right now around the rest of the nation, not with the Indians opening the "other" series against the Red Sox on Friday night at Fenway Park.

The other series features the top-winning teams in baseball, which both finished with 96 victories. The other series is being carried on FOX, which is broadcast TV. The other series offers such household names as Boston's Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Daisuke Matsuzaka, and three Cy Young Award candidates -- the Indians' C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona and the Red Sox's Josh Beckett.

The NL series has the top-winning teams in the Senior Circuit -- the 90-win Diamondbacks and the 90-victory, Wild Card-winning Rockies, who needed every one of their 17 victories in their last 18 games just to get to this spot. This series is being carried on TBS, which are the initials for a cable TV station. And this series offers potential MVP Matt Holliday, 2006 Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb, star rookie Troy Tulowitzki and a cast of youngsters.

No wonder there's a "Second Series" feel to it.

"This is probably to be expected," said Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes, whose resume includes stops in Cleveland and Boston. "We haven't gotten a ton of national attention along the way. Everyone out here knows how exciting and competitive the NL West was. Both teams are proud to represent our division. And someone from the NL West is going to play in the World Series."

And that's happened just three times since the advent of the three-tier playoff system in 1995. Arizona is the only winner, having defeated the Yankees in a seven-game 2001 series. The Padres were swept by the Yanks in 1998, and the Giants lost the 2002 World Series in seven games to the Angels.

For those who missed what happened in the NL the last month of the season, the Padres and D-backs vied for the NL West title and a playoff spot down to the last weekend of the regular season. Arizona won the West on the final Saturday. Meanwhile, the Mets and Phillies came down to the last day of the regular season before determining who won the East, as Philadelphia survived.

With the Wild Card also up for grabs, the Rockies weren't even a consideration until they began their torrid streak, winning every game except one during the final two weeks to knot the Padres on the final day of the season. In the Wild Card tiebreaker, they trailed by two runs going into the bottom of the 13th only to score three times against Trevor Hoffman to make the playoffs.

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It wasn't a secondary race at that point, that's for sure, and Dan O'Dowd, the Rockies' GM, said he's enjoyed every moment of it.

"It's been a good run," said O'Dowd, who's another executive with a Cleveland pedigree. "But again, it doesn't seem like it's been a good run because we haven't looked at it that way. I don't even know how many we've won out of what."

Asked if he wanted to know, O'Dowd said: "No."

So be it. The fact that this is the "Second Series," the third series or even the eighth series, makes no difference to the Rockies.

"We don't care about that," O'Dowd added. "Our manager said it best: We haven't been the entrée in this whole process and we're still not the entrée. We're just trying to win a ballgame on Thursday."

The entrée in the LCS for years hasn't been the NL. Yankees-Red Sox certainly took top billing in 2003 and 2004 and the uppity play of the White Sox was the story of 2005. Last year, the turnaround Tigers were the darlings of the baseball world until they were summarily beaten by the Cardinals in the World Series.

Now, it's Cleveland and Boston meeting for the fourth time in the postseason, but the first time in the ALCS.

Rockies-D-backs? The "Second Series" has been devised as a late-night aperitif.

"That's been cooked up by a bunch of critics who are wanna-be ballplayers and hate all of us anyway," Hudson said. "And that's a good thing because everyone needs haters. It's good to have haters."

"You're assuming that I'm concerned about being patted on the back," added Tony Clark, the veteran Arizona first baseman. "And I'm not. I'm not. Trying to manipulate or change people's opinions is something that will give me more gray hair than I already have."

The fact that Clark has a clean-shaved head should not detract from the metaphor.

"That's why I shave it," Clark said. "Too much gray."

No matter, they'll play the "Second Series" anyway.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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