Last night it was Michael Kay posing the question of whether you can homer your way to victory in the postseason to Paul O’Neill, and Paulie repeating the new found wisdom that, no, you can’t. Pay no mind to all of those hugely important and highly memorable postseason home runs the Yankees hit from 1996-2001, I guess, this is a formula that just doesn’t work in October because, you see, there’s Too Many Good Pitchers once you get to the postseason (the members of the 1996 Braves and 2000 A’s just collectively admired their super-awesome World Series rings as I write that, I’m sure).
There are two obvious rejoinders to this great playoff pitching myth that I see. First and foremost, the Yankees have actually been quite good against the league’s best pitchers this season. In fact, they’ve scored at least five runs in games started by Justin Verlander (twice), Felix Hernandez, Gio Gonzalez, Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey, David Price (twice), and James Shields (three times). Indeed, the notion that you need to small ball your way to victories over the very best pitchers just seems bizarre to me. Sure, the best pitchers might be less likely than the average starter to allow a home run, but shouldn’t they also be less likely to allow opposing teams to string together hits and “productive outs” to scratch out a run here and there, to say nothing of being less likely to allow the number of baserunners you’d need to get 3-5 runs this way? If we’re assuming for the sake of argument that the opposing starter is on his game when you’re facing him in the postseason, wouldn’t it be advantageous to have a lineup of mashers who’d be more likely to turn the fewer number of mistake pitches into extra base hits to do maximum damage when given the opportunity, as opposed to a lineup that needs to get a larger number of hittable pitches to string togethera bunch of singles or get a fly ball deep enough to the outfield for a sacrifice fly?
Secondly, I really would have thought that we would have stopped delivering pronouncements about What Wins In October after last year’s ALDS. You remember that time, right? Back when the 2010 Giants had shown us that all you need is
love good starting pitching and the Phillies and Rays were pert near invincible thanks to their starting rotations, especially in the shorter divisional series round? Well, lo and behold, neither of those (legitimately) great rotations even made it out of the first round, losing to the eventual league champions in five and four games, respectively. In addition, the Cardinals didn’t exactly ride a run of stellar starting pitching performances to the championship.
Sooner or later we’re all going to be forced to admit that there’s no singular recipe for playoff success. October is, by definition, a small sampling of baseball, and that means that, by and large, the game turns on who gets lucky/hot at the right time, and the somewhat wacky things that can happen in one week or one game. Cody Ross turning Roy Halladay into a batting practice pitcher. A.J. Burnett delivering the pitching performance of the year. Neftali Feliz catching half an inch too much of of the plate, allowing his cutter to be lifted the opposite way for a game tying hit, instead of missing the end of the bat for a World Series ending strikeout. Those are the things that decide postseason games and series, not how a team is scoring runs in June.
And, of course, as I said yesterday, there’s an implication here that the Yankees are the newest version of the 2010 Blue Jays, a team that doesn’t do much of anything besides hit a ton of home runs, that’s just wrong. In fact, about the only thing the Yankees are not doing well, or at least about as well as you’d expect them to be doing, is hitting with runner in scoring position. That’s not unimportant, of course, but considering that nothing else seems to be out of whack, there’s nothing that can really be done about that but sit back and hope it starts to normalize.
Well, not letting Don Kelly hit a solo home run in a Game 5 you wind up losing by one run would help too, I guess. Would have been nice if a few local sports writers had lectured him on the virtues of postseason singles before that game, huh?