Sunday, October 28, 2007

"When You Get Squeezed, What Comes Out of You is What's Inside"

The October 22 issue of ESPN the Magazine contains a very interesting Buster Olney interview with Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz. Oakland A's GM Billy Beane told Olney that the MLB playoffs are a crapshoot, adding, "The Cardinals proved my point last year," so Olney led off by asking Smoltz if he agrees with that assessment. Smoltz replied, "Believe me, talent doesn't always win. But that's not luck. It's a mind-set--a will to win, to walk, to sacrifice, to do all the little things, whatever it takes. The teams that win it all typically do those little things better than anybody else. We went to the playoffs 14 straight seasons, but we won only one World Series. Why? Because we didn't execute the finer things...Our formula over 162 games made us better than anybody else, but the formula for a short series is totally different. I believe the successful formula in the postseason is power pitching and contact hitting. To me, the 1996 Yankees were the ultimate team; they didn't have any statistical category that blew anybody away. They just did the little things together. They were the most disciplined-hitting team I've ever seen. That made it very difficult to beat them."

Smoltz told Olney that if last year's Detroit team played St. Louis 10 times that the Tigers' pitchers would not likely make five errors again. "But pressure in that environment makes you do things you otherwise never would and it's the players who handle that part of it who have the best chance of succeeding. I know a lot of great players who couldn't care less if they ever played in a playoff game, because that's not the environment they want to be in. Over 162 games, they're going to shine because they're more talented but in a short series, where everything is magnified--they don't want to be there. They don't have the makeup." Wouldn't you love to know which specific players Smoltz is talking about--and if any of them play for the Yankees?

Smoltz concluded by telling Olney that he is immune to pressure: "There's a reason I'm 15-4 in the postseason: I want the ball. I want to be in those situations. I fully accept the responsibility. I've lived it and I know that certain players give themselves and their teams a better chance to be successful because they can deflect all that negative energy...I believe that when you get squeezed, what comes out of you is what's inside."

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