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Jeff Blair

A Hall of Fame World Series Add to ...

Even a lunatic like A.J. Burnett comprehends the magnificence of the talent on display in this World Series - both the weight of their accomplishments and the force of the personalities.

"You know, when you're in the other dugout you're always going: 'Oh yeah … Jeter … all those guys … the Yankees … uh-huh," the New York Yankees pitcher said yesterday, as his team prepared for an off-day workout before tonight's third game of the 2009 World Series at Citizens Bank Park.

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"But then you get here and you realize that ain't how it is. Not only are they great players, but it seems like every game at least one of them does something that makes you just shake your head. It's real, man. It's real."

It is no surprise that television ratings have been up for the first two games of the series, and not just because of the two markets involved. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, shortstop Derek Jeter and Philadelphia Phillies starter Pedro Martinez are all sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famers and they have coattails: Martinez's start in Game 2 resulted in a spike in viewership between Games 1 and 2 of 15 per cent and 26 per cent Boston and Providence, R.I.

Through two games, Fox TV's ratings are up 37 per cent from last year.

Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez should be a first-ballot selection, but who knows how history will treat a player who has, essentially, played his entire career during the steroid era and has admitted using performance-enhancing drugs? Not even Barry Bonds has to deal with that. And A-Rod being A-Rod, well, there's a chance that something else lurks.

Beyond that? Yankees starter Andy Pettitte, who admitted yesterday he gets looks from players when he tells them this is his eighth World Series, has both the regular-season and postseason cachet to be voted in and gets brownie points for an unambiguous confession of using human growth hormone.

Yankees catcher Jorge Posada has a chance. Hard to remember, but he really wasn't an everyday player until the 2000 season and even though injuries in 2009 will have a measured effect on his final numbers, that should be mitigate if, as expected his career is extended as a designated hitter.

It's too early to start talking about Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and CC Sabathia as Hall of Famers, but their early careers have them at least on the path, and Sabathia and Howard are helped by being larger-than-life personalities - literally.

But of all of them, it seems as if this is going to be Rivera's series to win and lose.

It is apparent that while Yankees manager Joe Girardi is even more bullish on his starting pitching after Burnett's performance in Game 2 allowed his club to close the gap in the best-of-seven series to 1-1, he is terrified to death of his middle relief.

Burnett's curveball was so devastating Phillies manager Charlie Manuel still didn't seem to believe yesterday that it was anything but a slider, and Girardi is leaning toward Burnett in Monday's Game 5 on three-days rest. On the other hands, New York relievers Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain have so devastated the Yankees - as opposed to being devastating - it's clear Rivera's workload is going to be heavier than he expected going into the playoffs.

Rivera threw 39-pitches in picking up his fourth career World Series two-inning save in Game 2. It was the most pitches he'd thrown in a World Series game, exceeding by four the pitches thrown in Game 3 of the 1996 World Series.

For the Phillies, back-to-back World Series titles would be nice, but beating the Tampa Bay Rays is one thing. Beating the Yankees puts a club on a different historical level, a step above the Florida Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks and other easily-forgotten, temporary title-holders.

Rivera, who has now recorded World Series saves for nine different starters, is one of the reasons that Manuel called the Yankees the team his Phillies "had to play."

"To me, Mo is a once-in-a-lifetime player," Jeter said. "When he's done, there probably won't be anybody coming out and doing what he does. It's just something you don't see, that mix of longevity and consistency."

Like Burnett, Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira understands he is an eyewitness to baseball history. Unlike Burnett, he has seen Rivera's cut fastball first-hand as an opponent.

"A good cutter is a great pitch but a bad cutter is just a slow fastball down the middle of the plate," Teixeira said. "That's why to do what he does one pitch - to get the movement he gets on his cutter time and again …"

Teixeira let his voice trail off.

In a series of big names, everybody knows whose has to be written largest for the Yankees to win.

Couldn't be more fitting, could it? Even A.J. Burnett can figure it out.

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