Ok, ok … I can appreciate that most people think being a Rockies fan and being a Yankees fan are pretty much mutually exclusive. I don’t really get it, but I can respect it. Still, you can’t argue with this: there is a reason the Yankees are in the play-offs and the Rockies are not. One thing that I find really interesting about watching the play-offs is noticing the fundamental things those teams do that my team did not do all season long. I know what good baseball looks like, but sometimes in the course of a season I can get stuck inside a Rockies bubble and forget. The play-offs are an opportunity to remember. This year it’s been especially painful to see that quality pitching, hitting, defense, running, and will to win, because the gap between what these teams are doing and what the Rockies did is particularly wide. Still, in the name of the game I love, I’ve pushed through the pain, and in the process identified a number of specific things the Rockies could learn from these far, far better teams. I don’t kid myself that they’ll read this, but hey, you never know.
I’d like to turn their attention briefly to the bottom of the 9th at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. The Yankees were down 5-1 to the Tigers in Game 2 of the ALDS. Obviously, in that situation everybody wants to be the hero and hit a walk-off grand slam. We’ve seen it dozens of times with the Rockies. They get a couple of runners on and then somebody (I won’t say who, but often that somebody’s name rhymes with Dulowitzki) comes to the plate and pops the ball up to make the 3rd out. Or somebody else (again, won’t say who, but his name rhymes with Vigginton) comes up and hits the ball seven inches in front of the plate for a double play. Here’s what the Yankees did.
Nick Swisher led off with a home run on Jose Valverde‘s first pitch. Okay. That’s unlikely so let’s lay that aside. Jorge Posada, a consummate professional for all his attitude problems, worked a full count before blasting a triple to center on the 6th pitch of the at-bat. Valverde throws almost exclusively fastballs, and Posada knew that, so he sat on it and waited for one he could drive instead of swinging away at the first one he saw. Russell Martin was next; he took an 8-pitch at-bat that resulted in a walk. He held up on bad pitches and managed to foul off so-so ones, including the only off-speed pitch he saw. Most importantly, though, he was willing to take the walk. That allowed the tying run to come to the plate. If that hitter, Andruw Jones, had homered and tied the game, Martin would not have made the highlight reel. He wanted the win, though, not the glory
Jones hit a sacrifice fly on the first hittable pitch he got. If you have a runner on 3rd in a close game, you must find a way to get him home, and if there are fewer than 2 outs, a sacrifice is a highly preferable way of doing so. The Rockies don’t hit enough sacrifices in the middle of the order, and it shows. The Yankees at this point had Martin on 1st with 1 out. Derek Jeter made the second out on a swinging strike, but at least he avoided the weak contact that results in a double play grounder. Curtis Granderson followed with another walk. This put the tying run on base and brought the winning run to the plate. That run was represented by Robinson Cano, one of the top 5 guys in the game I’d like to have batting in that situation. But Valverde is still one of the best closers in baseball, and he got Cano to ground out to end the game.
The point, though, is that this was a far more quality inning than most 9ths the Rockies had this season. Play-off teams work together and do whatever they can to get on base and plate runs. Those are their top priorities, not walk-off home runs. I’m looking forward to the day the Rockies figure that one out for themselves.