Each time a playoff series moves into a new phase or encounters a particularly pivotal game – usually odd-numbered – the outcome becomes more and more dependent on how the players on each team handle pressure.
Of course, that’s both an individual and team phenomenon, so it’s very hard to predict just which team is going to handle it better.
The Yankees are a highly experienced team with a lot of guys who have been through the postseason a number of times, so they know what to expect, but that does not make them immune to the weight of the moment. If you need proof, just look at how the Texas Rangers came apart at the end of the season – and couldn’t get it done in the Wild Card round -- after going to the World Series two years in a row.
This is Baseball Psychology 101.
The Orioles may be “playing on house money,” as Buck Showalter is fond of saying, but they aren’t in a sound-proof booth. They know that the stakes are continually getting higher and they realize that they now have something to lose. But the key for them remains in the way they have spread the responsibility around the roster and kept the mindset that anybody can be the hero on any night.
Jim Thome articulated that in an earlier blog item here, so let’s let Jim Palmer chime in here on the importance of being yourself when the heat is on.
“Look at Barry Bonds early on when he was with Pittsburgh,’’ Palmer said. “He wasn’t good because he tried to do too much. In retrospect, all Barry had to do was be Barry, because he could beat you with home runs and his glove and stolen bases and all that.
“I just think human nature takes over, you want to do well and you try too hard, but in reality you just have to be yourself. I think after 162 games you should have a pretty good idea of what you can and what you can’t do.”
It isn’t just about experience, though Bonds eventually figured it out.
“I read all the articles about experience or not experience,’’ Palmer said recently. “I didn’t have any experience when I pitched my first shutout ever, which just happened to be in the World Series. I just think, for me, it was just try to go out there and don’t try to throw any harder. You just try to do pretty much what you’ve been doing all year long. If you get there, that usually means you’re doing something well.
“For this club, this club doesn’t need to change what they do. They need to stay close. They need to hand the ball to their bullpen. They’re a much better defensive club since Manny Machado and McLouth came up. They don’t have to do anything differently. I just think you have to stay within yourself and this club has done a great job of doing that.”