Billy Beane has said on many an occasion that his team building strategies do not work in the postseason. What he means by this is that although talent tends to rise to the top over a long season, all bets are off in a short postseason series. The better team will often be sent home due to a handful of surprisingly good performances on one side and equally weak ones on the other. This thought came to me last night while discussing a difficult night in Yankees history:
The 9th inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series displays just how random the postseason can be. The inning started off with clean line drive single up the middle by Mark Grace, a left-handed hitter. Rivera has held lefties to a .519 OPS in his career, and shut them down to the tune of a .435 OPS in 2001. Damian Miller then bunted, and Mo went for the force at second and threw wildly. Mo made one error in 2001, and it was the first of his career. He currently has 6 career regular season errors. On the next play, Scott Brosius, a plus defender for his career who was still a good glove, fielded a bunt and got the force at 3rd. However, he had a seemingly easy throw across the diamond to turn two, and for some reason refrained from making it.
Tony Womack was up next, another lefty who had a .652 OPS that year. Of course, he roped a double into right, scoring one run and moving the winning run to 3rd. Mo then unleashed just the 10th HBP of his career to put Craig Counsell at first. Joe Torre kept the infield in, and lefty batter Luiz Gonzalez blooped one just over the head of Derek Jeter to win the World Series.
Let’s recap: Mo, unhittable against lefty batters, allows 3 hits to them in one inning, including two line drives. The guy with the game’s biggest hit, Womack, was a bad hitter who had 30 RBI’s all season. Mo made the second error of his entire career and threw his 10th HBP, and Scott Brosius forgot how to turn a double play. Finally, Torre kept the infield in against the Diamondbacks best bat, and he looped one just far enough for it to evade the pulled-in Jeter. The amount of unexpected or entirely random things that happened in this one inning is fairly astonishing.
I have seen many Yankees fans write off the 2011 season before it has even started, noting that the team currently looks like a Wild Card team at best. While that may be true, and they would not be the favorite if a playoff series were held against Boston tomorrow, this viewpoint ignores the randomness inherent to a short series in baseball. Game 7 of the 2001 World Series should have taught us that once you get to the postseason, anything can happen. Write a potential playoff team off at your own risk.