It’s the Little Things That Count

by Chris Connors

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday October 13, 2005

Each autumn somewhere in-between September giving way to October, a very curious metamorphosis occurs after six full months of baseball. Sure, the obvious change is the start of the Playoffs. Suddenly there are only 8 teams vying for the World Series title, no longer 30. When you look close enough though, the interesting wrinkle is that there is a different game being played. It?s still baseball all right, just a much, much different kind of baseball. You can call it ?Small ball?, you can call it playing the old-fashioned way?either way it?s clearly a different kind of animal.

As the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox discovered in the first round of the 2005 Playoffs, teams with shoddy pitching staffs and hulking sluggers aren?t the teams that win World championships. The teams that win the World Series hit in the clutch. Their starting pitchers keep them in games. Their relief pitching is solid. Most importantly, their hitters get on base when need be. The Red Sox did that last season en route to their first title in 86 years. When David Ortiz wasn?t getting the clutch homerun, Kevin Millar was drawing an enormous base on balls. Dave Roberts was stealing 2nd base with the season on the line. Johnny Damon was barely beating out that dribbler down the 3rd baseline. That is how you win Championships.

Too often lost in today?s game of ?Moneyball?, Billy Beane would tell you, is all the money in the world can?t buy you a Championship. It will sure help you get close though. Money can buy you several of the game?s best sluggers. It can also give you the best possible leverage when looking to acquire prized pitchers in the off season. But ultimately it will unequivocally not help you win the World Series. The last two seasons the New York Yankees have had the highest payroll in Major League Baseball. They?ve reached the Playoffs each year. But they just haven?t quite had ?it?. ?It? is that intangible quality that Championship teams seem to invariably have. When the Yankees won 4 of 5 World titles in the late 1990s the team was perfectly constructed: Good starting pitching during the regular season that escalated to great in the postseason, airtight relief pitching, some power hitters, some contact hitters?all clutch hitters.

Some of that is luck, some of it is great scouting and some of it is just good baseball instincts. The 2004 Red Sox had those things. So did the 2003 Florida Marlins and the 2002 Anaheim Angels and so on. All of those teams won World Series titles. Similarly, this season?s Chicago White Sox and L.A. Angels of Anaheim are built from that mold. The White Sox and Angels both have two great power hitters in Paul Konerko and Vlad Guerrero. They both have very, very solid starting rotations. They also boast arguably the two best bullpens in baseball. And they have 'those' guys; the players during the regular season that don?t generally amass statistics that sabremetricians everywhere will ogle over. Yet these are the players that get the job done in the clutch.

Just ask the Red Sox about Scott Podsednik. Ask the Yankees about Bengie Molina. Both players during the regular season were relative unknowns to many casual fans not immersed in the everyday on goings of baseball. Yet both players were key parts in helping send the Sox and Yankees home early this October. Where was Orlando Cabrera when the Sox needed him this season? All he did last year was go on a torrid stretch-run getting clutch hit after clutch hit. Boston let him walk last year, letting the Angels scoop him up. In six postseason games so far, he has hit safely in each game and has driven in four runs. The Sox preferred Edgar Renteria who just the season before showed them that he wasn?t up to the task in the Fall Classic. The Yankees of yesteryear could always turn to Scott Brosius or Chuck Knoblauch. Now some of the best regular season hitters in baseball are much more apt to strike out with the game on the line rather than sacrifice a runner or eek out a clutch base on balls.

Great sluggers and homerun hitters will sure help you get through the regular season. Any baseball fan will tell you that after this season, the two best hitters in the American League were Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz. While Ortiz is remarkably clutch, he cannot carry a team on his back alone or even with just the help of Manny Ramirez. Rodriguez couldn?t even muster a run batted in during the Division Series. In the postseason all the little things matter. Why? Because the other team?s pitching is generally too good. Gone are the Devil Rays and Royals. Gone are the easy homeruns to get back into games. In vogue are the scrappy base hits, walks, sacrifice bunts and high choppers that you need to bust your tail on to beat out at 1st base. That is how you win in the Playoffs. The Yankees and Red Sox did not do those things in the Division Series. The Angels and White Sox did. It?s quite obvious why the latter two teams are still playing baseball.

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