The New York Yankees are in the World Series because of Billy Martin.

Their controversial manager has no peer when it comes to dugout didactics, and he again emerged as some thing of a guru in the American League playoffs while his Kansas City counterpart, Whitey Herzog, could think of nothing better than Gura.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are in the World Series despite manager Tommy LaSorda's bullpen blindness.

L.A. was the best team in baseball this season. Anyone who can beat CinCinnati automatically is. The Dodgers' starting pitching is as powerful as it is plentiful. But LaSorda has five starters - and nothing else. He had ample time to prepare Rick Rhoden and Doug Rau for October's late inning dramatics. Instead, LaSorda appears determined to stick with Sosa and the other so-sos of his relief corps.

This could be fatal to the superior team in a seven game series, particularly since Martin is a master at manipulating his team through the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. If the Yankees can keep things close until then, Martin and Sparky Lyle can beat the National League champions.

Las Vegas makes Los Angeles a 75 favorite to win the series and 6-5 behind Do Sutton to take today's opening game in Yankee Stadium "no matter who pitches" for the home team.

The smart money wasn't wrong in the playoffs, and I can't bring myself to go with the underdog in the Series, either. Martin's mound staff is in pieces. Lyle and Ron Guidry are his only pitchers presently sound of both arm and mind.

The first game is extremely important for the Yankees. They desprately need a victory of face the very real prospect of never getting out of Los Angeles through game five.

Tommy John is the only starter for either team whose performance can be taken for granted. His effort Saturday night in Philadelphia was masterful, by any standard. A left hander with excellent control of low breaking stuff, John is the perfect pitcher to beat New York: once, twice, or three times, if need be.

John did not pitch up to his top form over the final few weeks of the regular season. He struggled in the playoff opener against the Phillies, but was done in as much by his own shortstop, Bill Russell, as by his own shortcomings. Russell's glove is always risky under pressure.

Saturday's effort by John in Philadelphia is the key. The Yankees will be pounding a lot of baseballs into the thick turf of the two stadiums. Thank goodness there is no artificial flavoring to this series. An infielder's jumping ability will not be as important as his going to his right or to his left.

I like Los Angeles to win. I will risk the seven to five even though the Dodgers' bullpen terrifies me. Even so, I remember how Cincinnati swept the Yankees last fell with a relief crew that was just as bad.

Which just goes to show that, in a short series, bad pitching can get past good hitting some of the time. That, apparently, is what LaSorda is counting on, if his front-line pitching falters. Or, better yet, I hope he will become as smart as Martin and learn to adjust to a particular situation.