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2011 world series

The World Series Begins Tonight, So It’s Time to Drop the Mask: Go. Cardinals.

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 18:  Workers paint a 2011 World Series logo on the field at Busch Stadium on October 18, 2011 in St Louis, Missouri.The Texas Rangers will take on the St. Louis Cardinals in Game One of the 2011 World Series on October 19.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

This is a World Series you should be excited about, people. The St. Louis Cardinals versus the Texas Rangers is a great matchup for all sorts of reasons — the history, the offenses, the managers, the comebacks. Yet there is a sentiment about this series that is widespread in sports journalism, and it goes like this, courtesy of Jon Heyman: "It's not the Yankees, it's not the Phillies and it certainly isn't the Red Sox here in the World Series. FOX will fret. And MLB has to worry. But of course, the Rangers and Cardinals know they deserve to be here, and they figure they're going to put on a pretty good show."

You know what people who say "MLB and Fox are upset that MARKET THAT IS NOT BOSTON OR NEW YORK is playing MARKET THAT IS NOT BOSTON OR NEW YORK in the World Series" are really saying? They're saying that they're upset. They're saying they wish this wasn't the World Series. But why should any baseball fan care whether Fox gets good ratings for their World Series, or bad ratings? We look forward to baseball reportage 300 years from now: "It's not the Marconian Three-Slugs, or the Neptunian Narwals, or the Milky Way Maulers. Who in this, or any other, galaxy cares?"

No sport other than baseball worries about this stuff, with the possible exception of the San Antonio Spurs making the NBA Finals. This is the freaking World Series we're talking about here: It's important. It features an ascendant franchise in search of its first-ever World Series championship, facing one of baseball's most storied franchises going for its eleventh-ever championship, appearing in its third World Series in seven years, after having just finished off one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history. These are two crazy offenses with some of the best hitters in the game, from Josh Hamilton to Albert Pujols to Mike Napoli to Matt Holliday to Nelson Cruz to Lance Berkman. These are two of the most iconic managers in the game, from the hyperintense mania of Tony LaRussa to the charm of the dancing Ron Washington. (He's even in Moneyball!) These are two teams who are extremely similar and equally matched: This series is going at least six, probably seven. This is what baseball is all about.

The series really should be even: The teams are awfully similar. Some keys:

1. The similar pitching staffs. The rotations are mostly a wash, in that they were both pounded across the head and neck in their respective LCS and saved by a top-tier bullpen. The Rangers' is deeper — Alexi Ogando is a shutdown weapon Ron Washington can deploy at any time — but you can't argue with what the Cardinals' bullpen did against the Brewers. Also: We're not sure there's a more difficult pitcher to hit right now than Jason Motte, and that includes Neftali Feliz.

2. Home field no, game seven yes. You can argue that the Cardinals have a home-field advantage, but that rarely means all that much in the playoffs, other than the fact that the home team usually wins a Game Seven. (It just usually doesn't go that far.) It might behoove the Rangers to get this taken care of in Arlington, just in case.

3. Health. A lot may depend on how gimpy everyone is or isn't; Hamilton has been gimpy and somehow unproductive for the Rangers, and the Cardinals have worries about Matt Holliday, Albert Pujols, and (mostly) Game One starter Chris Carpenter. Also, look for every Cards fan to gasp any time Pujols so much as frowns.

4. The running game. The Rangers have a speed advantage — at one point this season, the Cardinals went more than a month without trying a stolen base —  but St. Louis has Yadier Molina, a crouching stolen base deterrent, behind the plate. Also, watch for one of those patented "Pujols steals out of nowhere" moments. He loves those, when you least suspect it, even though he's slower than the Molina brothers standing on each other's shoulders.

5. Outfield defense. If you're looking for an Achilles on the Cardinals, and the place one team has an obvious advantage over the other, it might be outfield defense: All three of the Cardinals outfielders are minus defenders. This could be an issue in a series that should feature lots of balls flying to, and over, the outfield.

But no matter what: It'll be great. You can do your "these aren't the Yankees screw 'em" all you want. This series is going to be awesome.

All right. We good here?

Fine. Fine. I've been spending the last three years doing my absolute best to, if not hide my crazed Cardinals fandom around these parts (this is New York magazine, not St. Louis magazine, though that is also a fine magazine), at least to try to subdue it. But you know, screw it. The Cardinals are in the World Series, no New York teams are, there's no freaking NBA to talk about, and, dammit, I work here. So for the next week and a half, as long as this series is going on, I'll be writing about the Cardinals in the World Series as my Cardinals here for The Sports Section. Because they are. I am not going to pretend. With any luck, the NBA lockout will end right when the World Series does (yeah right), and it'll be a nice easy transition into Knicks coverage, a New York team I do root for.

But for now: I'm dropping all pretense. I'm a Cardinals fan, and you're gonna have to hear all about it for the next week-plus. Sorry. I could only keep up the mask for so long. Go. Cardinals. Yahhhhhh!!!!

Photo: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images