ST. PETERSBURG -- Welcome to The Looking Glass World Series.
No Alice, but a couple of teams about to transport fans into a Fall Wonderland.
The Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays are giving the World Series a facelift. They are the two latest newcomers into the kaleidoscope, the 11th and 12th different teams to appear in the past seven Fall Classics.
They are such mirror images of each other, they could also give it a jolt of excitement and suspense, perhaps poised to stage the first Series to go the seven-game distance since 2002.
That was the year the Angels won it all, with their bench coach, Joe Maddon, now the Rays' manager.
It's a quick 13-mile trip from Clearwater to St. Petersburg.
So neither the Phillies, who hold Spring Training in Clearwater, nor the Rays, whose preseason camp is just down the strand from Tropicana Field, have gone far physically in eight months. Emotionally and artistically? Immeasurable.
Driving, one can cover the distance in a flash. Playing baseball, it takes 6 1/2 months of ups, downs, sidetracks and triumphs.
At the end of that long and winding road, the Rays and Phillies again bump into each other. They most recently met on March 19, the last of their four Grapefruit League meetings.
They also have an Interleague history, and it's all Rays: Tampa Bay has taken four of five series, including a three-game sweep here in 2001, and has an overall record of 10-5 vs. Philadelphia.
No one has ever before considered St. Petersburg as baseball's Valhalla, but that's what it has become for two star-crossed teams that have emerged from their murky pasts to commandeer the game's biggest stage.
The Rays reached the World Series after 10 seasons of having won nothing, not even many games.
The Phillies have already won a World Series, in 1980. But considering they have been working at it for 125 years, you could argue that their suffering runs deeper.
Now they are a couple of days from launching a refreshing Fall Classic, two teams well matched in pathos and in everything else.
WE MEET AGAIN
The Rays and Phillies have played five Interleague series, with the Rays holding a 10-5 advantage in wins, including a three-game sweep in 2001.
That includes power, which has essentially defined the widening gap between the two leagues. The American League has built its supremacy on its bare-knuckled attacks.
Well, no National League team has brought more firepower into a World Series, which will be played for the 104th time. No NL rep in a World Series has hit more home runs than the Phillies' 214.
Is that the great equalizer for the Phillies, whose league has lost 13 of the past 17 World Series games? Could be: NL teams have been out homered, 25-12, in the past 25 World Series games.
You have to give the Phillies the edge at the back end of the 'pen. The Rays will pit their committee of closers -- currently chaired by David Price -- against Philadelphia's Mr. Perfect, Brad Lidge.
And experience ... the Phillies are postseason incumbents, and that status usually comes with an inside track. Of the 23 World Series that pitted a postseason newcomer against a team making a return appearances after falling short the previous October, the repeater won 13 times. Philadelphia is back after getting swept out of the NL Division Series by Colorado last postseason.
And the Phillies enter the World Series on a bigger roll: Including the playoffs, they have won 20 of their past 25 games; the Rays are 21-12 in their past 33.
Both teams have strong rotations -- though the Rays' is deeper and on a better roll -- versatile bullpens, tight defense anchored by athletic center fielders and run-and-gun offenses that extend far beyond the starting lineup on any given night.
With first basemen the cornerstones of both offenses, the Rays scored 774 regular-season runs and the Phillies 799. About the only thing Tampa Bay doesn't have is a Ryan Howard and his 48 homers and 146 RBIs. Carlos Pena is close with his 31 home runs and 102 RBIs.
Behind the leading men, the Rays' drop-off is steeper. Pat Burrell and Chase Utley each hit 33 homers and combined for 190 RBIs for the Phillies. Evan Longoria pushed Pena with 27 homers and 85 RBIs but, from there, you spiral to 13 homers (Gabe Gross) and 67 RBIs (B.J. Upton).
Of course, in two postseason weeks, "drop-off" was blotted out of the Rays' dictionary, as Tampa Bay went on a power surge once the playoffs began, connecting on a record 16 homers in the LCS.
Both teams will tax each other's catchers: The Rays led the Majors with 142 stolen bases, the Phillies ranked third in the NL with 136.
Based on their emphasis on an aggressive running game, the Rays are often compared to an NL team.
Joe Blanton, an AL veteran and the Phillies' likely Game 3 starter, subscribed to that analogy.
"Just from what I've seen in the past, Tampa usually seems to be more of a speed team, although the past few games, they've shown off a lot of power," said Blanton, who faced the Rays once this season while with Oakland and is 2-3 lifetime against them. "When you have both, it makes a lineup tough to face, because you feel like if you shut one down, there is always another one that can pick you up."
And Maddon recently recalled that in Spring Training he got the impression the Phillies "were more like an American League lineup."
They even come equipped with a DH: Matt Stairs, the over-the-line left-handed hitter who normally is good for only one at-bat for manager Charlie Manuel. Stairs has hit .385 with three homers and five RBIs in 13 at-bats as a pinch-hitter since being a late-August acquisition from Toronto, and losing him as a bench chess piece would hurt, but he also has 61 lifetime homers as a DH.
Beyond the casts, the Phillies' biggest edge might be the open skies over Citizens Bank Park. The historical outdoor World Series record of dome teams, including those that play under retractable roofs, is pretty dismal at 4-12.
Tampa Bay, having spent the year overcoming trends and obstacles, does not figure to be concerned by another. The Phillies, on the other hand, are convinced it is their time to double-up on World Series trophies and are committed to seizing the final stage by giving the Rays a Brotherly Shove.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.