Leverage Index offers a method of identifying the most dramatic of all post-season series.
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A litany of thwarted hopes, Livan Hernandez, Jack Quinn, and other mutterings.
It is Wednesday, One of My Seven Days of Nervous Baseball
On Mondays, I feel like it’s August 16, 1920 and I’m Ray Chapman, striding to the plate against Carl Mays at the Polo Grounds. I’m going to take that submarining busher’s next pitch and kill it—I just have to remember to crowd in so he doesn’t get me on the inside corner.
On Wednesdays, I feel like it’s June 18, 1977 and I’m Paul Blair. Reggie Jackson has just dawdled after a Jim Rice double and manager Billy Martin has sent me out to right field to replace him in the middle of the inning and on national television. I don’t know if Billy is right or if he’s wrong; I just know that this is the longest jog of my life because Reggie is going to kill me when I finally get there.
In his second postseason as a starter, the 1952 World Series, Brooklyn first baseman Gil Hodges had a miserable time. In seven games he went 0-for-21 with five walks and one RBI. The Dodgers lost to the Yankees in seven games, and Hodges was the official goat. Hodges played in another four World Series and he never had another bad one, hitting .337 with four home runs in 26 games, yet he never did stop hearing about what happened in ’52, and that terrible series may have helped keep him out of the Hall of Fame.
I think about the “Snodgrass Muff” a lot because, like “Merkle’s Boner,” it’s a good example of how unfair life can be. “Snow” supposedly cost the Giants the 1912 World Series against the Red Sox—the last World Series the Sox ever won, you’d think, from the way folks are carrying on this year—but he was only a contributor. The two teams were playing the eighth game of a seven-game series, a previous game having ended in a tie, at Fenway Park. It was the bottom of the 10th inning. The Giants had just gone up 2-1 in the top of the frame by scoring an impossible run against Smoky Joe Wood, on in relief. Christy Mathewson was still in for the Giants.
If insurance companies covered baseball leads, the Cardinals’ carrier would surely have deemed Thursday’s loss to the Mets an act of God. After all, the LaRussians carried a 6-2 lead into the ninth inning only to see the Mets score six runs against their closer. As They Might Be Giants sang in, “She’s An Angel,” “These things happen to other people; they don’t happen at all, in fact.”
That’s almost literally true—they don’t happen at all. You know how given a three-run lead in the ninth inning, a closer—any closer—will convert about 96 percent of the time? Give a team a four-run lead in the visitor’s ninth and they’re going to convert about 100 percent of the time. The winning percentage of teams in that situation over the last 50-plus years is .987. It is very, very hard to blow a lead like that, and yet the Cardinals, the team of supposedly expert reliever usage manipulated by the Bobby Fischer of Bullpens, managed to do so. As they say, that’s why they play the games.
Of course, most teams with a four-run lead don’t have Jason Motte coming into the game and putting on a performance that couldn’t have been worse had it been paid for by Arnold Rothstein. Motte didn’t allow a hit to the Mets, but he walked leadoff man Willie Harris, saw Nick Evans reach first base on a Rafael Furcal error that aborted a potential double play, and walked Jason Pridie. The bases loaded, Motte capped a memorable afternoon by walking pinch-hitter Justin Turner to force in a run. At that point, quick-draw LaRussa, who had not been as quick as one might have expected in this series, finally brought the hook, but neither Fernando Salas nor Marc Rzepcynski could stem the tide that had now been unleashed. The flood was exacerbated by some shaky defense from the Cardinals, not only Furcal’s error but also bad positioning on the part of left fielder Shane Robinson, who had come into the game for Allen Craig and was caught playing shallow on a drive to left field by Ruben Tejada that went for a double and tied the game.
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