Tuesday, November 3, 2009

There's No Crying in Baseball

New York Yankees fans hoped to be celebrating the franchise's 27th world championship today, but the Philadelphia Phillies won Game 5 last night, and now the teams are returning to New York for Game 6 and, if the Phillies win again on Wednesday night, Game 7.

Tyler Kepner tried to put the best possible face on the situation in the New York Times:
"Fans would like to believe that players can will themselves to greatness, particularly those infused with that most intangible quality: grit. There is no way to measure grit, but we know it when we see it, or at least we think we do.

"Jimmy Rollins is gritty. So are Jorge Posada and Shane Victorino and Brett Gardner. And so, of course, is Andy Pettitte, the Yankees' first choice to start Game 6 of the World Series on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.

"Sometimes the grittiest players, the ones renowned for playing the right way and coming through at big moments, do not deliver. Derek Jeter came up as the potential tying run in the ninth inning of Game 5 on Monday, with a moonlighting closer, Ryan Madson, teetering on disaster for the Philadelphia Phillies. Madson threw a sinking fastball, and Jeter grounded into a double play."

It looked pretty good for the Yankees when they had reeled off three straight wins after losing the opener.

And, admittedly, the Phils have their work cut out for them. They still have to win two games in enemy territory. And they'll have to continue this improbable march to the title by overcoming Andy Pettitte Wednesday night.

But Pettitte, although victorious in Game 3, struggled against the Phillies the first time. Now forced to pitch on three days' rest for New York, Pettitte's season "seemed to reach the point of exhaustion Saturday," as Kepner observed. It remains to be seen whether he can summon what is necessary to throttle the Phillies — and Pettitte, who has won 17 of 26 postseason decisions, said his first encounter with the Phillies was an "absolute grind."

If he doesn't stop the Phillies, that will mean a Game 7. New York still will present a formidable obstacle on the mound in C.C. Sabathia, but he, too, will be working on three days' rest. What happens will dictate the terms of the debate that seems likely to be waged during the offseason.

In my experience, anything can happen in a best–of–seven series that reaches the seventh game. At that point, Yankee fans may be second–guessing everything after coming within one win of claiming that championship only to lose the next two games, and the Yankee Stadium crowd may be more subdued for Game 7 than it will be tomorrow night.

By that time, too, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel may be praised for sticking with his pitching rotation in spite of the pressure that comes with some tough setbacks in a short playoff series.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. First thing's first. That means tomorrow night's game.

Whatever happens, both teams are to be commended for a scrappy series. But, win or lose, I would implore their fans to remember ...

There's no crying in baseball.

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