The World Series is set to begin on Saturday night, with one team attempting to earn its first championship in 44 years of existence and another trying to win its first in 88 years.

And in true throwback form, the Astros and White Sox are likely to do it with pitching and small ball.

The series is being hailed as one for baseball purists and true fans of the game, and Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Tribune writes just that:

"Don't people get it? That's what makes this a cool story -- it came unexpectedly, cutting through the predictable suspects in Boston and Orange County. Not only have the Sox beaten the Cubs to the doorstep of the unthinkable Chicago dream, they've won with the kind of smart, unselfish, high-character, pitching-and-defense charm that defies everything we've seen from baseball in recent seasons.

Jon Heyman of NY Newsday followed suit, with a decidely South Chicago slant:

"These Sox will surprise you, and more to the point, they'll surprise Houston, which has a few problems here, the first being that they're unaccustomed to seeing an American League team that can play small ball. What's more, these Sox have little guys who play long ball, former bad boys making good and forgotten castoffs making this their most memorable season in decades.

"If Houston's a nice story, with Bags and Beege, and 40-plus years of heartbreak, the White Sox are the best story. While they remain the second-class citizens of the Second City, they are the team you absolutely have to love.

"These White Sox will win this World Series, if only because there could be no other ending for a team this expertly put together, a team that's already survived what looked certain to be a crash landing, a team that acts like it's only beginning and a team that completes what it starts."

John P. Lopez of the Houston Chronicle recognized two Houston mainstays who have finally reached the promised land:

"The Astros, at their best, magically have transcended everything they once were and are bringing Houston along for the ride through magic waters.

"Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, once the B's knocked to their knees in the postseason, won't ever be looked at again as some kind of lovable failures. They've reached the World Series. They've unburdened a city and gained, most likely, the last testament necessary to their respective Hall of Fame causes."

The "Killer B's" and the rest of the Astros did that by beating the Cardinals, 5-1, on Wednesday, setting up Saturday's Game 1. The White Sox will have rested for five days by the time the game starts.

Scot Gregor of the Daily Herald points out that the layoff could negatively affect the White Sox:

"The White Sox have lost only one game in the postseason.

"After sweeping the Red Sox in the American League Division Series, the White Sox had three days off and looked rusty while dropping Game 1 of the ALCS to the Angels.

"The Sox bounced back and won four straight against Los Angeles to advance to the World Series.

"'I don't know what we're going to get,' said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. 'Is it in the back of everybody's mind? Of course, because of the many days off. I think we should be prepared mentally and forget about how many days off we have. Just concentrate on the ballgame.' "

Guillen announced the White Sox rotation Thursday, naming Jose Contreras to start Game 1, and following him with Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Freddy Garcia.

The Astros will counter with Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt in Games 1, 2 and 3, respectively.

The White Sox lack experience against Clemens, who they will likely face at least twice. Carl Everett leads the team with 20 at-bats and three starters (second baseman Tadahito Iguchi, shortstop Juan Uribe and center fielder Aaron Rowand) have yet to face "Rocket."

Lindsey Willhite of the Daily Herald points out that the winning strategy for the Sox might be swinging early and often in Game 1:

"Because Clemens' splitter has become such a good "out" pitch, particularly when he gets ahead in the count, surely the White Sox scouts have reported it might be best to catch him early in an at-bat.

"Opponents batted .259 on the first pitch against Clemens this season. In all other counts combined, opponents hit .188."

Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune speculated on the effect that playing at least two games without a designated hitter would have on the White Sox roster:

"The Astros carried only one left-handed reliever in the NL Championship Series: Mike Gallo. That might cause the Sox to add another left-handed hitter, such as Ross Gload, and remove a reliever from the roster if Dustin Hermanson's lower back feels healthy enough to permit him regular work."

Gregor sums up the expectations for the series in a second article for the Daily Herald:

"... The White Sox are the overwhelming favorites to snap their 88-year run of postseason futility.

"But when they stare across the field and size up Houston, the White Sox just might feel like they're looking into a mirror.

"'This is going to be a good one,' said Sox general manager Kenny Williams. 'I think these are going to be some of the closest games in recent World Series history.' "

Fan-atics

The fervor of these two long-denied franchises is impressive. Several newpapers reported that $45 standing-room-only tickets in Houston were being resold for upward of $700. And Matthew Tresaugue of the Houston Chronicle reported an interesting mayoral decision in Houston:

"Mayor Bill White urged Houstonians to participate in a 'no sox' weekend in support of the hometown team.

"'My mother may not approve,' he said, before several members of his senior staff lifted their slacks to show off bare ankles. 'But let's show everybody that we're behind these Houston Astros.' "

Meanwhile, Jon Yates of the Chicago Tribune wrote about the ticket shortage that has left many White Sox fans miffed:

"[Brooks Boyer, the Sox vice president of marketing] said that just after the remaining tickets went on sale to the public at noon Tuesday, about 130,000 people were queued online hoping to purchase seats. Most of them, too, were shut out.

"'What I'm concerned about is you never want any upset fans,' Boyer said. 'I wish we played in a 120,000-seat stadium where everybody could get in. The reality is we play in a 40,000-seat stadium and you try to please as many people as you can.' "

Other Highlights

Jeff Vorva of the Daily Southtown, on the recent celebrity of White Sox backup infielder Geoff Blum, who played for the Astros in 2002 and 2003:

"When the Astros locked up the National League Championship Series on Wednesday night to set up a matchup with the Sox in the Fall Classic, Blum knew he'd be in demand.

"'I spent the night studying and cramming for this,' Blum said.

"He was joking, but he's going to be serious about giving advice about his former team and the strategy of playing at Houston's Minute Maid Park, where the left-field wall is an inviting 315 feet away from home plate [down the line], though the wall is 19 feet high.

"'The first thing you see is that you can probably put the entire stadium on our infield,' Blum said. 'It's weird. It's like playing 'arena baseball' in there. It seems like the wall is on your back when you play third base but center field seems like it's a mile and a half away. There are interesting dimensions, but it's still a ballpark. If you pitch your game instead of pitching to the ballpark you can have success.' "

Kathleen O'Brien of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, on crossed allegiances:

"Many Astros fans might not realize that first-year general manager Tim Purpura grew up a die-hard Chicago White Sox fan. It figures the first time the White Sox have made the World Series since he was an infant is the first time Purpura can't root for them.

"'I grew up in Chicago,' Purpura said. 'I was a White Sox fan in 1969, and this is the year when the Cubs were going to go to the World Series. I was the only kid in the neighborhood that liked the White Sox.'"

Kristie Rieken of the Associated Press, on Astros pitching coach Jim Hickey:

"On this team, the role for Hickey, who grew up on the Southwest Side near Midway Airport and graduated from Kennedy High School, is mostly one of motivation and understanding.

"'I'm just a sounding board,' said Hickey, who never pitched in the majors. 'Really, we don't need pitching coaches, we need pitching psychologists.' "

Chicago Tribune Sports Media columnist Ed Sherman, after discussing how Fox is enamored of the ebullient Guillen, points out that Guillen's managerial style could have financial repercussions for the network, which is broadcasting the games:

"The network, though, would like him to change one part of his managerial approach: By having his starters pitch four straight complete games in the ALCS, Guillen didn't go to his bullpen. That prevented Fox from going to commercials during a pitching change.

"At $375,000 for a 30-second spot, Fox will lose considerable revenue if Guillen sticks to the same routine in the World Series.

"'He doesn't understand we run the cash register when he goes to the mound,' Fox Sports President Ed Goren joked."