Monday, June 23, 2008

2007 ALCS: Physics and Luck vs. Character

From the Archive: October 17, 2007
[ALCS vs. Cleveland, Sox down 3-1]

I HATE LOSING!!!!!!!!! I HATE IT SO MUCH!!!!!!!!!

Tonight was unpleasant. I teach a class at 730, and I raced home afterwards. It was still 0-0. First pitch I saw, Blake homers. And then the floodgates. Ugh.

When watching the playoffs, I vacillate between the perception of the game as moral, as a manifestation of will and courage and tenacity- in a word, as a battle of character, on the one hand, and the perception of the game as physics and chance, void of meaning- an inch here, a bad call there.

It’s easier to see pitching as moral. In two postseason games, Beckett's gone 15 innings, with 15 K's and no walks. That’s aggression. Dominance. The imposition of will. Beckett is the champion, the ace, the man who will triumph.

Sabathia, in his two postseason starts, doesn't have it. In the regular season, he walked 37 in 240 innings. In the postseason, he's walked 10 or 11 in as many innings (give or take.) he's lost his nerve. He’s afraid of contact. He stops throwing the fastball. He has no killer instinct (watch him get ahead 0-2 and then walk the hitter.) he's weak.

So game 1 was a battle of morality and character, of meaning.

Since then, I’m not so sure. In game 3, a couple of terrible strike calls- for instance a 3-0 ball a foot off the plate inside on crisp turned a walk into an out, and killed an inning. Papi rips a ball to the right side for a dp, and lines out to right on a ball that took 1/3 second to get there. Nixon bloops the game winning hit off Lopez.

and game 4, Buck and McCarver were actually right to emphasize that had that ball either been caught by Wakefield for an out, or he missed entirely, Pedroia easily would have turned 2, inning over, only 1 run in. instead it trickled for an infield hit. and 6 more runs.

the Sox keep hitting sharply into double plays, the Indians hit grounders too softly to turn two. crisp and Pedroia both lined out in key spots late in game 4.

this is all physics and chance. No character. no morality. Hitting is about luck- Papi is imposing his will, but liners get caught. Bloopers fall in. but pitching is about morality. Beckett dominates. Sabathia's a pussy. but Wakefield and his knuckleball- with no pitch selection- is about physics and chance, and so we get beat by a trickler.

look. We got Beckett in Game 5. Quite possible to win that game. Then we're down 3-2. Someone's gotta be 3-2 after 5 games. no big deal. And then its two games at Fenway. Schilling acts like Schilling, and then its game 7, and anything can happen.

Physics and luck.

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