If major-league baseball ever worried about whether the best teams would emerge from its first-ever three-tiered playoffs, its worries are over. Cleveland and Atlanta have made it through to the World Series, which begins Saturday in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
These teams may not bring the same mass appeal to the Series that a Yankees-Dodgers matchup presumably would, but they are totally worthy. And if their play to date is any indication, they could help baseball crawl out of the hole it dug for itself with last year's World Series-eliminating strike.
Atlanta is coming off a four-game sweep of Cincinnati in the National League Championship Series in which the Reds were held to a paltry five runs. And before that, the Braves were nearly as dominating in dispatching the slugging Colorado Rockies.
At the same time, Cleveland largely silenced opponents' bats in wins over Boston and the "Refuse to Lose" Seattle Mariners.
The Indians managed a triple play of sorts this year, leading the majors in regular-season wins (100, compared with 90 for runner-up Atlanta) while serving as the American League's batting and pitching valedictorian.
Atlanta only outhit two other teams in either league, but it is acknowledged to own baseball's best pitching staff and the best five-year record in the game. The Braves have won three pennants during this period, only to lose the 1991 and 1992 World Series to Minnesota and Toronto.
The Braves last won the Series in 1957, when Lew Burdette, Warren Spahn, and Hank Aaron brought a title to Milwaukee. A victory this time would give Atlanta its first major-league professional championship.
While the Braves seek to reverse their most recent Series frustrations, the Indians (champions in 1948) aim to expunge the vestiges of the club's long "winter" - the performance depression it suffered since being swept in the 1954 World Series by the New York Giants. Willie Mays's spectacular first-game catch helped sink that year's winningest team.
The World Series will be broadcast by NBC and ABC. Games 1 and 2 will be in Atlanta this weekend. Games 3, 4, and 5 (if needed) will be Oct. 24, 25, and 26 in Cleveland. Games 6 and 7 (if needed), will be in Atlanta on Oct. 28 and 29.