NEW YORK - Ryan Howard thought about the World Series and his eyes widened.
"Between Yankee Stadium and Philly, it's going to be, I would have to say, probably one of the rowdiest World Series - just between the fans," he said.
Sure will be if Howard and Alex Rodriguez start teeing off in their high-profile slugger showdown.
For the first time in 20 years, the World Series will feature a pair of former major league home run champions when it opens, weather permitting, tonight.
No player in the major leagues has been scrutinized more than A-Rod, a postseason star following a scandalous spring training that include a steroid admission and hip surgery.
And Howard has carried the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies every bit as much as Rodriguez has propelled the Yankees to their first Series appearance since 2003 - and the first of his career.
"Ryan, along with his power, he's also become a great hitter," Rodriguez said yesterday. "And that's bad news for the National League and bad news for us."
The 34-year-old Rodriguez already has succeeded Reggie Jackson as the favorite Yankees target of wannabe amateur psychologists, who try to analyze past playoff flops and his relationships with Madonna last year and Kate Hudson this season. Now he wants to follow Mr. October as a champion.
A three-time AL MVP, he entered the first round against Minnesota hitting .136 (8 for 59) in the postseason dating to 2004 and was hitless in 18 consecutive playoff at-bats with runners in scoring position.
What a change.
He led the Yankees with a .438 average, five homers and 12 RBIs in the victories over the Twins and Los Angeles Angels, hitting tying home runs in the seventh, ninth and 11th innings.
"I think everyone is looking for a profound answer, and I don't have one," he said, sitting behind a table in Yankee Stadium's Great Hall as baseball adopted an NFL-style approach to Series publicity for the first time.
"I think at the end of the day, I'm content. I'm happy, both on and off the field," Rodriguez said. "I think I've cut out a lot of the fat, or unnecessary distractions."
The 29-year-old Howard also needed a winding, if less notorious, path to postseason success. He had only one RBI in his first two playoff series while hitting .217 (5 for 23), then batted .300 with two RBIs against the Los Angeles Dodgers in last year's NL championship series. He then hit three homers and drove in six runs in leading the Phillies over the Tampa Bay Rays for Philadelphia's second-ever title.
And this year, he's batted .355 with 14 RBIs in the playoffs against the Rockies and Dodgers.
"I think that our approaches this postseason, as opposed to be previous postseasons, are a lot better," Howard said. "I think both of us are a lot more patient, both of us are a lot more relaxed, it looks like. You know, I'm going out there just having fun. It looks like that's what he's doing, as well."
Both teams worked out yesterday in the $1.5 billion new Yankee Stadium, where two freshly painted logos were in foul territory in honor of the ballpark's first World Series. Still standing across the street, covered in black mesh as if a ghost, is its 86-year-old predecessor, awaiting demolition after hosting a record 100 Series games.40.71455 -74.00713 ERROR: Template storyimage.ldo not found in theme default for section Pro!
Ryan Howard thought about the World Series and his eyes widened.