Boston's roster has 21 players with prior playoff experience, 19 of whom have been to the World Series. Tampa's has six and two. All that extra experience has gotten the Red Sox outscored 31-15 through four games. The Rays may be a young team that's never been here before, but they're the ones who fought back against the pressure after a miserable first game, and the Red Sox are the ones who frittered away an opportunity to take control. The Red Sox are the ones who've looked helpless on their own turf against an offensive onslaught led by a herd of postseason greenhorns. David Ortiz is widely heralded as the greatest clutch performer of our generation, and he has one hit. Carl Crawford has nine.
What good is prior playoff experience, really? What is the tangible benefit of having played in October before? It's not like you need experience to learn how to play, because the game isn't any different. Baseball in October is no different than baseball in July. It's not anything new. There are no gameplay keys unique to winning in the playoffs. You don't have to hit behind the runner more often. You don't have to be more active on the basepaths. You don't have to manufacture more runs. You don't have to pitch more inside. The rules are all still the same. You just have to outscore the other team, the same way you do during the regular season. There's nothing there to get used to.
Is it a comfort thing? I suppose postseason novices might be a little more jittery in the lead-up, but for one thing, everyone's always going to be a little anxious going into the playoffs, and for another, I imagine it takes all of one pitch for the players to realize that it's just another baseball game. The same game they've all been playing their entire lives. There's no place to be nervous. There's no time to be nervous. And besides, players who get nervous and buckle under pressure will be selected against far before they ever reach the Major Leagues. You have to pass an awful lot of tests before you find yourself on a postseason roster. Stressful tests. You don't make it to October if you can't handle high stakes. Everybody who makes it has already demonstrated on countless occasions that they're up to the challenge.
It's easy to say "Boston's the more experienced team," but until someone explains to me what that actually means for them going forward, I've no reason to care. Why should I? By itself, it's an empty statement. It's true, but it's empty. And if no one can demonstrate to me how extra experience changes the way players play, then it is of negligible relevance. You might as well tell me the Rays are winning because of their mohawks.*
This series isn't over. Boston still has a 10-15% chance of coming back to advance. They're a heck of a solid team, and by no means can they be counted out. But for all of the talk about how they've been in this situation before - so what? How does that help them? They have to win three games in a row. They can't make it all up with one swing. No shit. Tampa would know that too. And if Boston's experience were so critical, shouldn't it have prevented them from falling behind 3-1 in the first place? Losing seems like a silly way of trying to win.
After the Red Sox stopped the Rays, 2-0, in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series at Tropicana Field, Ortiz was asked about the importance of winning here. The Red Sox were 1-8 at Tropicana this year. Instead of discussing how Boston conquered the dome, Ortiz analyzed the Rays.
“I’m telling you, I saw faces tonight different than what I see in the regular season,” he said. “I don’t blame nobody. It’s a lot of pressure out there right now in this game. You know you have to win or otherwise you go home.”
For three games now, those nervous faces have beaten the living crap out of the experienced Red Sox. They've done so because they've made better use of their talent, and at the end of the day, that's the only thing - the only thing - that matters.
* The Rays are not winning because of their mohawks.