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October 19, 2012 7:42 am

Head Games: Two ALCS-Altering At-Bats

2

Will Woods

Detroit's pitchers toyed with Yankees batters in all four games of the ALCS. Here's a closer look at two striking Tiger sequences.

When I was in high school, the thing to do was play poker. Kids would play during free periods, lunch, whenever, sometimes winning and losing over $100 in a day. (And some of them could actually afford it.) Like any high schooler worth his salt, I followed suit, and soon I was a dependably willing player, relatively conservative but always game to try to fleece a freshman who’d just looked up the rules on his expensive new iPhone. As an editor of the school newspaper, I even planted this quote in a cover story we ran on the poker fad: “It’s the most intellectually challenging thing I’ve ever done.” Yeah, when it came to antagonizing our teachers, we had a lot of tricks in our bag.

Poker may not have taught me as much as I wanted my teachers to think it did, but I did introduce me to one piece of advice that has stuck with me ever since: a successful poker player focuses more on his opposition’s holding than his own hand. I find that’s true in many walks of life, nowhere more so than in the duel between batter and pitcher, when it’s just natural to do what feels most comfortable to you, rather than what might feel least comfortable to your opponent. In the most extreme example, Aroldis Chapman walks a Little Leaguer on four sliders because he fears he doesn’t have his best heat that day. In a real-world example, the Yankees don’t adjust to the way their ALCS opponent’s pitchers attack them, and their season ends because of it. (Oh, and Justin Verlander somehow allows a home run to Eduardo Nunez. But we’ll get there.)

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Ben and Sam discuss Joe Girardi's decision(s) not to pinch-hit for any of his left-handed hitters late in Game Three of the ALCS.

Ben and Sam discuss Joe Girardi's decision(s) not to pinch-hit for any of his left-handed hitters late in Game Three of the ALCS.

Episode 64: "Should Joe Girardi Have Pinch-Hit in Game Three?"

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