Getting to the Postseason Before the (Devil) Rays Know You’re Dead

by Daniel Foster

Like a jerk, I posted my glee over the Red Sox elimination from the postseason on the Corner last night. And worse, I did it sober:

I regret that. But Red Sox fans should know that it was a glee borne of relief — and ultimately of fear.  The Red Sox have spent the last decade playing above their talent, and the law of averages, when it comes to the Yankees. Whether they make it to the playoffs or not, Theo Epstein seems to consistently field a team that can 1) win at Fenway and 2) beat the Yankees. Indeed, a major difference between this year’s team and their two World Series teams is (1). The 2011 Red Sox had identical home/road winning percentages. Contrast to the 2007 (.630/.556) and 2004 (.679/.531) splits.

But the ‘11 Sox could still beat the Yankees: They went 12-6 against the Bombers in a year in which the latter won the East and held the best record in the American League, including taking two of three from the Yankees in their opening series, after the Sox had gotten of to an 0-6 start in April.

(1) is to my mind a product of identifying talent that benefits from Fenway’s dimensions. The otherwise mediocre Mike Lowell was the supreme example of this. But it’s true of better players than Lowell as well: Ortiz, A-Gon.

(2) Seems to me to be magic. But whether it’s scouting (hard to believe in on a moneyball team), superior preparation, Francona’s motivational powers, or some other dark force, the Sox seem to be able to fight above their weight against the Yankees.

Some numbers:

  • Mariano Rivera’s career numbers as a reliever: 2.05 ERA, .969 WHIP, 4.21 K/BB, .683 SV/GF*, OPS against .537
  • Mariano Rivera’s career against the Red Sox: 2.82 ERA, 1.237 WHIP, 3.17 K/BB, .593 SV/GF. OPS against .639
  • Dustin Pedroia career line: .305/.373/.463/.837
  • Dustin Pedroia career line against the Yankees: .317/.392/.453/.845
  • Kevin Youkilis career line: .289/.391/.492/.883
  • Kevin Youkilis career line against the Yankees: .313/.442/.498/.941
  • David Ortiz career line: .283/.378/.544/.922
  • David Ortiz career line against the Yankees: .303/.391/.559/.951

*Saves/Games Finished. Not a perfect proxy for saves versus blown saves (since not all games finished were save opportunities) but a good measure of what can be thought of as “saves conversion rate.”

Queerer still is the ability of marginal Red Sox to look like Ty Cobb when the Bombers are in town. Kevin Millar. Marco Scutaro. Jason Varitek. The difference doesn’t necessarily come out in the splits, but any fan who’s watched all the games can tell you these bastards seem to always come through in the clutch against the Yanks. Which reminds me of another number, easily the most important one: 2004.

People have opined that it would have been better for the Yankees to face the Red Sox — a “spent force” with “the stink of death” on them — in the ALCS than the surging and pitcher-leaden Rays. But everything gets reset in the postseason — we’ve seen in the form of the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals a team barely two games over .500 win the whole thing — and that applies most of all to the Red Sox. Was there ever more of a spent force with the stink of death on it than the Sox before Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS?

As I’ve written before, to be a Yankee fan post-2004 is to know that, like a slasher film villain, the Red Sox are never dead until the credits roll. I am well aware that (assuming we can get by Verlander) the Rays could take us out in the ALCS. But at least that would be an ordinary postseason loss. To have a limping Red Sox team surge into the playoffs and take out the Mighty Yankees with the best record in the AL would be nearly as psychologically damaging as 2004. So I’m incredibly relieved it can’t happen.

Right Field

Brief chronicles of our sporting times.