Saturday, October 6, 2007

Tense and Entitled

It's pretty clear that none of the common maxims concerning postseason success are accurate. You can say pitching wins championships and look at the Yankees having won 26 of them with arguably only 2-3 pitchers that deserve to be considered in the top 50 all-time. You can say playoff experience wins championships and look at the 2002 Angels, the '97 and '03 Marlins, or the '07 D'Backs, Rockies and Indians. You can say a strong finish in September equates to wins in October, and then look at the '06 Cardinals and Tigers.
I have a couple pretty non-revolutionary theories about postseason success. A) It's relatively random. B) Loose teams win championships.
Right now the Yankees, quite amusingly from my end, find themselves buried in an 0-2 hole as they return to the Bronx, on the brink of solidifying their 7th straight championship-free year. Certainly if any of the four teams currently down 0-2 had a shot at taking three straight, it would be the Yankees. They're going home to face two pitchers that don't deserve to be in the same rotation with the first two they saw, and any game 5 is a toss-up. That said, I doubt it.
I won't say that this Yankee team lacks heart or hustle; statements like these are really throwaways after they've been said by everyone everywhere since Game 7, 2004. What I believe has really bitten this Yankee team in the rear, to a progressively worse degree every year, is the culture that is cultivated and encouraged from the front office, and trickles on down to the fan on the street. I'm not making any personal attack on the Boss, or any complaints about the payroll here. I have a lot of respect for Steinbrenner for spending that money; as a fan I would hope my ownership spends my money on my team.
The real problem, the culture issue in the Bronx, is the tough love fascination with winning, winning, winning. The banter you hear about "true Yankees", the constant scrutiny of a manager that has never failed to bring you to October, the way many Yankee fans are just waiting to pounce on A-Rod before he even steps up to the plate with RISP, all of these are signs indicative of this attitude. Any failure is viewed as Armageddon, completely unacceptable in all ways. There is no team or fanbase that is totally free of these sentiments, but in the Bronx that is their defining trait. World Series titles are tantamount to a heroin fix, leaving the post-2000 Yankees effectively dopesick. That is the real problem with this mindset; it is impossible for any of these Yankee teams to be loose and relaxed in October. While arrogant and entitled, they are not confident, and it is apparent in their play. They are playing tense and tight, trying to keep up the appearance of being strictly business, and at a point that just doesn't work. The Rockies are having fun, as are the Indians and the Diamondbacks. The Red Sox are having the time of their lives. Is there any way Derek Jeter gives you the reaction Manny Ramirez gave you after hitting a walk-off HR last night? The Indians are playing the Yankees with a drive to win, certainly, but that drive is coupled with a clear awareness of the nature of postseason play; they are enjoying themselves and have the feeling that they have nothing to lose. The Yankees entered this series assuming they would win because they are the Yankees, feeling they had dodged a bullet by missing the Angels to play the AL-leading 96 win Indians in their stadium. Subesquently, they encountered unexpected adversity, and since then they have approached every hitter with an urgency, as if they have everything to lose. Perhaps the only Yankee not guilty of this is Andy Pettitte, who has all but missed the majority of the recent down years.
Around all of the other series the same theme has held true. The relaxed team who knows who they are are winning. Arizona was written off despite notching the NL's best record, but they stayed calm and confident and are on the verge of sweeping a Cub team that is full of holes despite their high profile. Philly has played the right way for months, and maybe they allowed that stretch run to get them ahead of themselves.
I have to admit, this week has been a much better week for this Met fan than last week. Here's to Manny Ramirez.

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