Occasionally, a stage is so well set in sports, a theme is developed with such an elegant sense of the dramatic, that it's almost impossible for the final outcome of the event not to be superb as well.
That's the pleasant, tingling state of affairs that baseball's 78th World Series has reached as the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees prepare to meet in Yankee Stadium Tuesday night at 8:20 (EST) in Game 6.
When the Dodgers' knuckle-curving Burt Hooton meets his old L.A. roommate, sinker baller Tommy John, in the blue-and-white palace in the Bronx on a night expected to be cloudy with occasional drizzles and temperatures in the upper 50s, two things can happen and both are storybook stuff.
If the Dodgers win, they will be world champions and will have avenged their six-game losses in the '77 and '78 Series; in particular, the L.A. players will have rewritten the most bitter chapter in their collective lives. In '78, they won two games, started to strut too soon, then lost four in a row; fairly or unfairly, they were branded a team with no stomach under pressure.
Now, the Dodgers can play the same nasty trick on the Yankees, the haughty bunch that has beaten them in eight of 10 previous Series meetings. Already, the New York tabloids are warning the Yankees of the epithet that awaits them if they lose their fourth straight game: "The Team That Blew The Series."
If the Yankees win Game 6, then a seventh game will be concocted with the chubby child, Fernando Valenzuela of L.A., facing Dave Righetti in a rematch of Game 3 between two glamorous rookie left-handers.
It's fitting that, when these Series hostilities resume, each team will have a third baseman unwrapping his bandages two hours before game time to see if he can bear the pain of playing. In both cases, the answer is expected to be affirmative.
Yankee playoff star Graig Nettles, who missed all three one-run Yankee defeats in Chavez Ravine over the weekend, will remove a splint and bandage to see if his sprained left thumb can help swing a bat decently. Knowing Nettles' history, he'll almost certainly play in this Yankee "must" game, even though he probably hurt his chances Saturday when he tried to take batting practice and reinjured himself.
The Dodgers' Ron Cey, who came back against doctors' recommendations in the National League playoffs -- batting with a cast on a left arm that had been broken -- now is trying to return from a terrifying beaning on Sunday by a 94-mph Goose Gossage fast ball that smashed into his helmet at the left temple.
Cey spent Sunday night at home after X-rays at Centinela Hospital showed no fracture. Although he was dizzy for hours after the beaning, Cey said, before boarding the team plane to come here, "I feel fine. All the tests checked out. I hope I can play Tuesday night, but there are still a couple of things to check out."
The Penguin, whose injury was diagnosed as a concussion, will be examined before game time and, unless he feels dizzy, will play.
Baseball has seen better teams and better play than has been on exhibition for the last week, but it seldom has seen more exciting games and more evenly matched veteran opponents. This Series is more theater than clinic.
Both these teams have a battered aspect.
Dodger Jay Johnstone said honestly today, "We don't profess to be the greatest team in baseball. This is just something we want for ourselves."
Yankee Reggie Jackson answered in kind, saying, "We certainly haven't played like a world championship team so far in this Series. But we won't quit."
Even Yankee owner George Steinbrenner has the look of battle. He called an early morning press conference in L.A., long after Sunday's game, to tell writers that while he had a cast on his left hand (possibly broken), plus a split lip and a beer-bottle-inflicted bump on his noggin, you should see those other two guys.
Steinbrenner's elevator attackers in an L.A. hotel, as yet unapprehended and unseen, called the Yankees chokers and tossed in a choice obscenity, according to Steinbrenner, who replied in kind. What ensued, according to Steinbrenner, was this: the elevator door flew open and two thoroughly punished ruffians hurtled out, fleeing the fists of the former Purdue boxer.
Ironically, when Billy Martin did to a marshmallow salesman two years ago exactly what Steinbrenner says he did to his elevator friends -- punch out the guys' headlights -- Steinbrenner fired Martin for dragging the proud Yankee name in the gutter.
Ah, the Yankees. Martin punches the marshmallow salesman. Goose Gossage punches Cliff Johnson (disabling himself). Graig Nettles punches Reggie Jackson. Martin tries to punch Jackson. Rick Cerone offers to punch Steinbrenner. Steinbrenner defends the honor of his players with his manicured mitts. How classy can you get?
The Yankees may give this Series its comedy, but it's the Dodgers, who haven't been world champions since 1965, who hold all the potential for making history. By winning, New York could add another chapter to its long pin stripe chronicle, but only the Dodgers can do something unique. If the Dodgers complete their come from behind victory here, they will, statistically, at least, be the most remarkable comeback club in baseball's history.
No other team ever faced five sudden-death playoff games, then won them all, as the Dodgers did in reviving themselves against both Houston and Montreal in the National League playoffs. Too add the rare accomplishment of surmounting a two-game-to-none deficit in the Series -- something only seven of 34 teams in that predicament have ever managed -- to their previous miracles would mark these Dodgers as special indeed.
"We have a feeling of destiny," said Dodger Steve Garvey.
In the past that is a feeling on which the Yankees always have held a monopoly.