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The World Series is a Time of Wonder

PHILADELPHIA - Travel day at the World Series. Time to wonder some things.

-- Start with the guy hitting fourth for the New York Yankees.

Two games. Eight at-bats. No hits. Six strikeouts.

We wonder about Alex Rodriguez. As a recovering infamy-in-October addict, is there any danger he's fallen off the wagon?

Here's what he had to say Friday, when asked if he had a moment to discuss the World Series.

"No."

Heard enough?

The issue requires a wee bit more discussion, since Rodriguez is the straw that stirs the Yankees lemonade. Just last week, he was the picture of postseason revival, a cross between Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth.

Two bad nights are a small retreat, but then, they'll only play a maximum of seven. A couple of 0-for-4's with a half dozen strikeouts in June are a blip. In the World Series, they're a slump.

So, are the Yankees worried?

"No, no, no," Derek Jeter said, seeming to mean it. "The guy's been killing the ball for three weeks."

Johnny Damon mentioned the "presence" of Rodriguez.

"We know with one swing, he's back in the ballgame. We're not worried about where he's at right now."

Where he was at that moment, by the way, was the batting cage.

"He's working on it as we speak," Damon said.

-- Speaking of formerly hot sluggers now swinging and missing, we wonder about Ryan Howard. He has also struck out six times, making 12 combined for Rodriguez and Howard - the most feared bats on stage.

What's going on?

"To me, that's pretty easy to answer," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "That guy standing out on the mound."

Cliff Lee and A.J. Burnett, Pedro Martinez and C.C. Sabathia and Mariano Rivera. Two of the most potent lineups in the game have combined for 11 runs in two games. The pitchers have owned this World Series so far.

-- Speaking of pitching, we wonder about Cole Hamels. He goes for the Phillies Saturday.

Remember how he turned October 2008 into a coming-out party? He had a 4-0 record and a 1.8 earned run average in the title run. Fame, fortune, magazine covers, the pleasure of watching the other teams drown in ground balls, a good seat in the championship parade. All his.

He's 1-1 this postseason with a 6.75 ERA. That followed a highly unsatisfying 10-11 regular season.

"Every time he goes out and pitches," Manuel said, "it's an adventure."

His problem?

"Location," Jimmy Rollins said, having seen Hamels struggle from a good seat at shortstop. "He hasn't been able to place his fastball where he wants it. You see the catcher setting up outside, and he's pulling the ball in, and when he's doing that, it makes his change-up a lot less effective."

Manuel listed other causes as a heavy workload in 2008, some spring injuries, a knack for running into bad innings.

Hamels mentioned Friday the craziness of last winter, when he was suddenly Philadelphia's hero.

"Your popularity changes, opportunities come, you take them," he said. "And you learn."

One thing you learn is how frustrating this game can get, no matter how many batters you handcuffed yesterday.

"It's the mental burden which can wear you down week after week, of not being able to go out there and do what you're expecting yourself to do, and then what everybody else expects you to do," he said.

"What I was able to do last year, everybody thinks I should go out there and pitch eight-inning shutouts every game, and that's a hard thing to do."

All will be forgiven if he shuts down the Yankees.

-- Speaking of the Yankees, we wonder about them on Halloween.

The only Oct. 31 World Series game ever played before was 2001, in the aftermath of Sept. 11. New York beat Arizona in the 10th inning of Game 4 on a Jeter home run just after midnight. He was instantly proclaimed Mr. November.

Eight years later, baseball is back on Halloween. The Yankees need Rodriguez better. The Phillies need Hamels better. A World Series tied at 1-1 waits for a turning point, and maybe more runs.

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