The New York Yankees appear ready, willing, and able to repeat as World Series champions.
As the two-time National League champion Phillies have stumbled for nearly a month, the Yankees have overcome some early injuries to erase a six-game deficit in the American League East.
All is well for the Bronx Bombers as they head into Tuesday night's World Series rematch with the Phillies at Yankee Stadium, the place where Shane Victorino grounded out seven months ago in Game 6, triggering the Yankees' 27th championship celebration. At 40-23, the Yankees share baseball's best record with their division rival Tampa Bay, the team the Phillies beat to claim their second World Series title in 2008.
At one point this season, the Yankees and Phillies had identical 24-13 records, but since then the teams have gone in opposite directions, which was news to the players in the New York clubhouse as they prepared for a game against Baltimore last week.
"You know what? I haven't been paying attention at all," Yankees lefthander Andy Pettitte said. "The last thing I saw was when [the Phillies] were in Florida, and they went a few games without scoring."
Told that the Phillies had been blanked seven times already this season, Pettitte seemed legitimately surprised.
"That's unbelievable," he said. "You wouldn't think that could happen to them. Then again, you just realize that's baseball and it does happen. Guys go into slumps. Sometimes guys struggle, and it just kind of snowballs. It happens to pitchers. I can definitely verify that."
Pettitte, who will face Jamie Moyer on Thursday in a game in which the combined age of the two starters will be 85 years old, has not struggled so far this season. The 38-year-old is 8-1 with a 2.46 ERA in 12 starts. The combined record of the Yankees' starters is 35-15, and 40-year-old closer Mariano Rivera is as good as ever, converting 15 of 16 opportunities while allowing just nine hits and three earned runs in 221/3 innings.
As well as the Yankees have played over the last month, their veteran players are aware of what can happen over the course of a long season. Pettitte and shortstop Derek Jeter were part of the 2000 New York team that lost 15 of its last 18 regular-season games. The Yankees recovered to win their third straight World Series.
In 2009, the Yankees were 15-17 after 32 games and 61/2 games out of first place in the American League East. Later in the season, they endured a 4-9 stretch during which they were shut out three times.
"Every team goes through it," Jeter said. "The way to get through it is to play another game the next day. That's basically it. I've never seen a team go through a full season without struggling. It's nothing out of the ordinary."
Jeter believes a talented team like the Phillies can draw on past experiences to emerge from the malaise.
"You always have that in your memory bank," the Yankees' captain said. "You can look back to the times when you had success, and the more success you have, the more confidence you have. The longer you've been together and the more experiences you've been through, you can draw from those experiences."
On the other hand, Jeter said a team also has to be careful not to rely too much on the memory bank.
"It's kind of tricky," he said. "If you do that, then you might just sit around and kind of wait for the talent to take over. You can keep it in your memory bank, but you can't think just because you had success that things are going to take care of themselves. There are a lot of times when you have to say things."
Yankees rightfielder Nick Swisher believes good health is as important as anything. He said the Yankees got hot a year ago right around the time third baseman Alex Rodriguez returned from hip surgery. The Yankees, in fact, won 10 out of 12 when Rodriguez returned and were right back in the thick of an AL East race that they won by eight games.
"Obviously that was a major thing for us," Swisher said. "Other than that, man, you have to deal with a lot of adversity throughout the season. Last year we dealt with some adversity and this year we're dealing with some adversity - injuries and things like that."
The Phillies have had to deal with long-term injuries to shortstop Jimmy Rollins, starter J.A. Happ, and reliever Ryan Madson. The injury to Rollins, of course, has received the most attention.
"It's important because he's a big part of that team," Jeter said. "But they have had enough guys that have been there who should be able to kick-start them. They have a pretty talented team and a pretty experienced team. Yeah, I'm pretty sure they miss Jimmy's play on the field, but I think they have enough guys to overcome anything that is going on in the clubhouse."
Pettitte, having played on the Yankees' last five World Series champions, offers advice that is simple in theory and difficult to practice.
"Don't panic," he said. "You know you have talent, so there's no reason to panic. That's why it is so important to have great leadership. You know what kind of track record they have. You know what they're going to do.
"Things just get magnified, especially in places like New York and Philadelphia, because the expectations are so high. They've won a championship and went back to the World Series last year. The biggest thing is not to press too much because you know you're going to come out of it and you know you're going to start playing well."
Read The Inquirer's Phillies blog, The Phillies Zone, by Bob Brookover and Matt Gelb, at www.philly.com/phillies.EndText