The playoffs are such a different dynamic than the regular season. The regular season is this long marathon where you’ve got to think about the long-term, keeping people fresh for August and September and knowing when to take your foot off today’s gas for tomorrow’s commute. The playoffs are not like that though, everything has to focus on right here, right now because you don’t know what will happen next game, next inning, next batter.
“Tomorrow is big,” said Alex Rodriguez after Game Two. “Going back to when I first got here, we always thought that Game Three was the biggest. It’s almost like hitting; the 0-0 pitch is the most important, then the 1-1 pitch becomes the most important. Same goes for a series.”
When Joe Torre was managing, I remember hearing him say that he felt Game Two was the most important game of the series, which is why he always tried to line Andy Pettitte up for that start. The idea was that if you were down in the series, you could even it up. If you were up, you had a chance to really put your foot on the other team’s throat. Either way, A-Rod‘s theory and Torre’s theory are both wrong. The most important game is today’s game, regardless of what number game it is in the best-of-X series.
No one has any idea what will happen tomorrow or the next day. You might think you know based on the pitching matchups and whatnot, but you don’t. I promise you, you don’t. And I don’t either. No one does. That’s why planning and managing for tomorrow in a short series rather than focus on what’s happening at the moment can be a season killer. Saving your top bench bat for a ninth-inning pinch-hitting appearance rather than using him in the seventh, limiting your top reliever to three outs instead of five or six today so you have him again tomorrow … all prime examples of what not to do in the postseason. It’s all about right now, which is why October is so different than April through September.
Joe Girardi went with Luis Ayala in the ninth inning yesterday for that reason, because he was basically saving his top relievers for today (and tomorrow). I didn’t like it, but what’s done is done, and the Yankees are now in a real nice position going into Game Three. Rafael Soriano and David Robertson are very well rested, to the point where asking each guy to get six outs tonight would not be insane. Mariano Rivera, despite Saturday’s three-pitch appearance, is well rested as well, and I don’t see why he couldn’t get four or five outs if needed. Of course that luxury is born out of a poor process, which is bringing in Ayala yesterday. Girardi can’t control results, he can’t make guys execute pitches or hit line drives to the gaps, all he can do is put his players and his team in a position to succeed. He didn’t do that with Ayala yesterday, but the trickle down effect is that it (theoretically) helps the team today, in the most important game.