Saturday, October 23, 2010

A (Sometimes Cruel) Game of Inches

Congrats to the San Francisco Giants, who have won the 2010 NL Pennant. They’re a good team with incredible pitching and in my view, a great manager.

Much will be made of the Phils’ inept play in key moments of this series. They were deplorable with runners in scoring position. They made serious mistakes in the field. And at times, they weren’t managed all that well. They certainly did not earn the National League pennant.

All of these items will, justifiably, receive significant attention from writers and fans everywhere. In a few days, I’ll be right there with them. But tonight, allow me to take a different angle. Baseball, like any sport, is truly a game of inches. This was never more evident than in Game 6 on Saturday night. In the bottom of the 1st inning, Jayson Werth just missed a homerun that would have given the Phils a 4-0 lead. In the bottom of the 5th, Ryan Howard doubled to the gap in left-center, but the ball careened directly to Giants center-fielder Andres Torres. This forced Jimmy Rollins to stop at 3rd base, where he was stranded. In the top of the 8th, Juan Uribe homered to right field on a ball that landed about a foot over the wall. But in the bottom of the 8th, when the Phils had 2 runners on base with one out, Carlos Ruiz hit a rope directly at Aubrey Huff, forcing a double-play.

This is not an exhaustive list. And of course, many such plays affect both teams on any given night. But on this night, and in this series in general, it sure felt as though these bounces more times than not went against the Phils.

This is baseball. This happens in a short playoff series when the N (number of events) is not large enough to ensure than these bounces cancel one another out --- or even come close to doing so.

If you dominate a team, then these bounces are irrelevant. Dominant strikeout pitchers and huge innings at the plate can make this happen.

But in the absence of dominance, you must depend on some help from the stochastic world. And sometimes, in baseball, luck just doesn’t go your way and it makes a difference. Go back and watch the tapes of the 2008 playoffs and you’ll see a lot of bounces going the Phils’ way. Remember Game 3 of the World Series? We won on a hit that went 15 feet.

It’s fascinating how much attention goes into every transaction and play over the course of a baseball season (and offseason). When it comes to making the postseason, the long season usually ensures that the best teams are part of the final 8. But in terms of winning a championship, you need talent, timeliness, and yes, luck. In the end, all of the maneuvering and speculating about every player and every play comes down to a handful of short series at the end of the year. Each team participating in these series --- whether it’s the LDS, LCS, or the World Series --- is a good one. Therefore, anything can happen. Ask the Braves, who won 14 consecutive division titles from 1991-2005 and only came away with 1 World Series championship. On the flip side, ask the Marlins, who won 2 championships in the same time frame despite making the playoffs only twice.

It hurts that the Phils had the best record in baseball this year --- for the first time in franchise history --- but failed to advance, let alone win, the World Series. But we should recall that the 2008 team was 92-70, good for just the 5th best record in baseball. The 2009 club won 93 games, several less than the Dodgers, whom them defeated in the NLCS. This is the first time since 1976-78 that the Phils have been on the wrong side of this cruel reality. But we should remember that as bad as it hurts to lose when you feel as though you should win, it’s even more exhilarating to win when you’re supposed to lose.

The Phils built a strong team this year and made the playoffs for the 4th consecutive year. In a short series against the Giants, however, they came up small in some big spots and didn’t get the bounces they needed. This is the nature of baseball

I’ll need a few weeks to shake this loss off; it sure was a tough one. But soon I’ll be ready to again agonize this franchise’s every move --- every signing, every trade, every top draft pick, every game --- with the hopes that we can make the playoffs again in 2011. I will do this even as I wholly recognize that winning it all, in spite of everyone’s efforts, will come down to a handful of games in that will be decided on talent, timeliness, and yes, some luck.

In a way, it’s truly absurd.

But more so, it’s quite gripping.

I, for one, can’t wait. Go Phils!


  1. Great post. I wish I could keep this perspective. You're right about the ball not bouncing our way...I just wish we were good enough for those bounces not to matter.

  2. In the case of the Phillies, the little things that went wrong in the playoffs actually mirrored their problems during the season....some hitting droughts, poor production with RISP, etc.