SAN FRANCISCO — Just ask the Oakland Athletics and Washington Nationals how much momentum means in the postseason.
Poised to ride the wave from Game 4 walkoff wins in the division series, the A’s and Nationals were promptly thrown under water – Oakland by a brilliant start by Justin Verlander, Washington by a bullpen meltdown.
It happens every October, or at least seems to. Just when one team appears to have seized momentum with a dramatic comeback or frantic finish that leaves the other side devastated, the roles get reversed.
“For me, I don’t really believe in that kind of stuff,” St. Louis infielder David Freese said. “We’re all professionals here and you wake up the next day no matter what happened previously and you grind it out. … As far as momentum, I think both teams just battle and you just play it out. And then if it doesn’t work out one night you get a good night’s sleep and you show up the next day ready to go.”
If there’s anyone who would be a believer, it could be Freese. He helped the Cardinals deny Texas a World Series title a year ago that seemed firmly in the Rangers’ grasp.
With the Cardinals down to their final strike in Game 6, Freese hit a two-run triple with two outs in the bottom of the ninth against Neftali Feliz to tie the game. Josh Hamilton replied with a two-run homer in the 10th only to have St. Louis tie it in the bottom half. Freese then forced Game 7 when he led off the 11th with a homer against Mark Lowe.
The Cardinals then won it all the next night in Game 7, overcoming an early two-run deficit to win 6-2.
There are plenty of other examples l– from the New York Mets’ improbable Game 6 rally that led to a World Series title in 1986 to Kirby Puckett’s walkoff homer in Game 6 in the 1991 World Series that was followed by Jack Morris’ 10-inning shutout that game the Minnesota Twins the title over Atlanta.
That was perhaps the best example of former Baltimore manager Earl Weaver’s mantra that “momentum is the next day’s starter.” That proved true again this year when Verlander beat Oakland 6-0 in Game 5 a night after the Tigers blew a 3-1 lead in the ninth inning.
“I don’t want to sound casual about this kind of stuff, because don’t get me wrong, the game broke our heart,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said before the Game 5 win. “But at the same time you learn over the years that, like I always use the expression, you can’t chew yesterday’s breakfast.”
CC Sabathia did the same for the Yankees when he threw a four-hitter to beat Baltimore 3-1 in Game 5 the day after New York lost in 13 innings.
St. Louis’ Chris Carpenter, one of this era’s most accomplished postseason pitchers with 10 career wins, doesn’t buy into that theory. He points to his team’s Game 5 win in the last round when Adam Wainright fell into a 6-0 hole before St. Louis rallied to win in the ninth.
“I think it’s how you play each game,” he said. “Nobody expected Adam to go out and give up six runs in one inning or two, whatever. And we still won that game. There’s no question it might set the tone a little bit. At this time of the year everything matters. It doesn’t matter who’s starting, what’s going on. You need breaks, you need a little luck and you need to go out and do the things the right way. So I don’t buy into anything.”
Since the start of the expanded playoffs in 1995, teams are 53-35 in the postseason in games following a victory when they scored the winning run in the ninth inning or later, according to STATS LLC.
But teams are just 2-6 so far this postseason in those situations. That includes San Francisco’s Game 3 extra-inning win in Cincinnati that started the Giants’ comeback from a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-five series.
“If you look at our series with Cincinnati, I mean we looked dead in the water here,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I don’t think a lot of people had us going in there and winning three. You win one game and it can switch. We have one hit for nine innings, but we found a way to win that ballgame. You saw the confidence grow with the ballclub and they found a way to win the next two. You always want to try to build up momentum, and if it doesn’t happen for you, you want to stop it.”