I'll come right out and say that it might just be me. But the way I see it, 3-1 series leads do tricky things to the brain.
A three games to one lead in a best-of-seven series - that's a commanding lead. It's the best possible position for any team to find itself in without being greedy. A three games to one lead in a best-of-seven series means that the team in front stands an 85-90% chance of winning, and an 85-90% chance of winning is a hell of a chance of winning. Mathematically, you can put a lot of confidence in something that has an 85-90% chance of taking place.
But the human brain doesn't care about the numbers. The human brain knows about the numbers, but the human brain doesn't always feel the way the numbers might dictate. And it's for this reason that I think a 3-1 series lead feels a lot more precarious for fans of the team in front - and a lot more surmountable for fans of the team that's behind - than it ought to.
The key thought for any fan of a team that's up 3-1 is "this is too good to be true." You invest so much emotion into rooting for a team, and so much of it gets thrown back in your face, that you can't believe it's all going so well. Even fans of the most successful franchises in sports have their horror stories. Their memories of devastating turns of events. When you're one win away from the ultimate victory, it's just so easy to envision everything unraveling. What happens if you fall behind in Game 5? Then you might lose. And then all of a sudden you're only one loss away from a Game 7, and oh, oh no, you don't want a Game 7, not after getting two games in front. Anything can happen in a Game 7.
Meanwhile, when you're a fan of a team that's behind 3-1, your back is against the wall. Mentally, you feel like the series is already lost. How do you intend to win three in a row? So a lot of the worry and stress goes away. And suddenly, with the shroud of anxiety lifted, it becomes easier to envision everything coming together. One game at a time. It sounds so easy, but it works so well. You don't have to come back from down 3-1. You just have to win one game, three times. How hard is it to win a game? When your team falls behind 3-1, I think you hit rock bottom, and then you pick yourself up, and you rally.
I have to say that, again, this might just be me. I don't have an open window into what the fan experience is like for other people. I just have everything that I've been through in my own 18 years of following sports, and this is how I know I behave. Back in 2007, my favorite hockey team got out to a 3-0 series lead in the conference finals. Then it lost, and in Game 5, it fell behind by a goal. Sitting there in my dorm room, I could feel the entire thing slipping out of my hands. And it kept feeling like that, right up to the point a couple hours later where the team scored in overtime and advanced to the Stanley Cup.
And it was in that Stanley Cup that my favorite hockey team then fell behind 3-1 in the series. As the final seconds ticked off the clock in Game 4, I bottomed out. I probably broke things, and I'm sure I yelled stuff that wasn't very nice. But then I woke up the next morning and thought everything through. I had tickets to Game 5. Just win Game 5, and they can go back home for Game 6. And you always play better on home ice. And if they can build off the home ice advantage, then they force a Game 7, and anything can happen in a Game 7, right? I built myself up. I created hope out of thin air. A few hours later, I watched my team lose.
The, right now, are one win away from winning the World Series. The are three. Giants fans have every reason to be ecstatic with the situation, and Rangers fans have every reason to be about as negative as they've been all season long. But tomorrow morning, in the lead-up to Game 5, I wouldn't be surprised if the moods are a little different. I think a lot of Giants fans are going to be nervous. And I think a lot of Rangers fans are going to feel loose, like there's nothing left to lose.
I don't even remember how I could deal with all this when my teams were good.
- Say what you will about the Joe Buck/Tim McCarver FOX broadcast - and, like you, I don't love it - but at least they, unlike TBS, are willing to acknowledge when an umpire has made a mistake. Consider the following two plays (screenshots courtesy of 30fps):
In that first play, the runner was ruled out. In that second play, the runner was ruled safe. And Buck/McCarver made note of it, in stark contrast to the way Ernie Johnson and company would just full-on ignore most any missed call and move on like nothing happened. Does it matter? Not really. But at least this way I feel less completely insulted.
- Watching Freddy Sanchez, I feel like he really missed out on a chance to be something by playing in Pittsburgh all those years. He made his first appearances, of course, as a much-hyped
It's not that Sanchez wasn't good in Pittsburgh. He turned into the player he should've been. It's that so few people noticed. You watch Sanchez now and you see so many of the qualities that make a guy a fan and media favorite. In the field, he's always moving. Always. Moving everywhere, in every direction, at the same time. It's balls-out defense. At the plate, he's got just the right amount of fidgety, and he makes a lot of contact. He fouls balls off and he puts balls in play and he's great for the hit-and-run. He's not an easy out. And he's a little white guy, a top-step kind of guy, ready to obey any orders he might be given at the drop of a hat.
I feel like, had it not been for the Pittsburgh episode, Sanchez could be something of a household name in the way that David Eckstein is a household name. He wouldn't be a household name because he's awesome; he'd be a household name because he gets talked about so much, all the damn time. People wouldn't think he's a star, and a lot of people would make fun of him and call him overrated, but a lot of other people would consider him inspirational, and all of those people would know who he is.
Maybe it's better this way.
prospect, but he didn't break into any regular lineups until after he was traded to Pittsburgh for Jeff Suppan. And he spent six years - his six prime years - in a uniform before breaking free and landing in San Francisco.
- Yesterday, watching Jonathan Sanchez, I was thinking about how pitchers who survive by being 'effectively wild' might be the most unwatachable pitchers in baseball. But then tonight I watched four innings of Tommy Hunter struggling to put anyone down, and I was thinking about how pitchers who don't have a putaway pitch might be the most unwatachable pitchers in baseball. Hunter threw 83 pitches tonight. The Giants unofficially took 38 swings. Of those unofficial 38 swings, two of them missed, and 20 of them went for fouls. Hunter's whole deal is making hitters get themselves out, and when the hitters aren't cooperating, the results can be ugly.
Hunter's now made three starts in the playoffs, and in none of those three starts has he so much as made it into the fifth inning. Given that this was probably his last appearance of the year, going into the offseason that's going to leave a nasty taste in his mouth. Unlike the taste that's left in his mouth by all the delicious shit he eats that's bad for him.
- Somewhere towards the end of the game, I saw three commercials for pistachios within 43 minutes. Which is three more commercials for pistachios than I'd seen in my first approximately 1.3 million minutes of being alive.
Andres Torres' first seven playoff games: 3-26, 12 strikeouts. He's slumping! He's hopeless!
Andres Torres' seven playoff games since: 12-28, 5 strikeouts.
On the one hand, sure, keep Pat Burrell on the bench since he's in a miserable tailspin. On the other hand, so what?
- Madison Bumgarner is a 21 year old lefty who spends oodles and oodles of time working inside against right-handed hitters. Madison Bumgarner's balls are so big that they interfere with cell phone reception, and when you walk by him when you're on the phone, you have to tell the person on the other end, hold on, I'm walking by Madison Bumgarner's balls.
- "He doesn't run well." Every time Bengie Molina does anything, somebody has to point out that he doesn't run very well. Nary a groundball goes by without a note that he's probably the slowest runner in baseball. Announcers are basically calling him fat, and then laughing about it. As long as we're going to be observational, why don't you point out that Matt Cain is ugly, or that Juan Uribe's kind of black? Oh, that's unprofessional? So is calling Bengie Molina fat at every god damn opportunity. You announcers might think it's all in good fun, but you know how sensitive some of them big fatties can be.