Monday 15 October 2012

Now pinch hitting for number 13....

After the end of the regular season, in all major sports, come the playoffs. In the playoffs, we are often given the impression that there is more pressure to perform. Certainly, the eyes of baseball fan everywhere focus more closely on the teams that graduated from the regular season into the exclusive playoff level. Every few days, another team is weeded out, forced to make plans for next year, and there are more baseball watching eyeballs focused on fewer and fewer teams.

Players must know this. They must see the crowds arriving earlier to their seats, filling in every last row in the stadium. More reporters hang around the clubhouse, more cameras and microphones shadow them in their daily routine. Friends and family who may have been indifferent to their occupation, suddenly want tickets. All those kids from AAA teams who were suited up in big league colours for the last month, eager and bright eyed? Those kids are gone, watching at home. Only the real big leaguers remain. They playoffs aren't any more complicated when the umpire shouts 'Play ball!' every night, but the feeling has to be different. There is something at stake every night. There is an awareness of all these little changes, turning up the pressure one more notch.

People remember what you do in October. That's the way of the baseball world. Dave Winfield waited 11 years to shake the label 'Mr. May'. Bill Buckner only exists in the casual fan's mind for one fateful October moment. Joe Carter hit 396 home runs in the regular season. You can only find one picture of him running the bases in your memory bank. Fisk waving one fair in game six, 1975. Bucky effing Dent. October remembers.

Maybe I know why he's having trouble.
This story has a great, and a goat. Both of them know what October can do to you. Alex Rodriguez has seen baseball in October 11 different years. He knows how it feels to be the great, in 2009 he hit 6 home runs in the post-season. He batted .365/.500/.808 for the month of October, and he got his World Series ring. He is 37 years old, and very well paid. This year, in October, he has not been great. He has been beyond bad. Joe Girardi has batted him third four times. His best efforts have resulted in a line of .125/.222/.125 so far. There is to be no twist in his fate. A-Rod is our goat.

Which means Raul Ibanez is our somewhat unlikely great. He's been to the post-season 5 times himself. In fact, he was in the opposite dugout in 2009 when A-Rod had his big coming out party in New York. He has no ring with the World Series logo on it. Yet.