Commentary

Yankees find comfort in clichés

New York goes to defense mechanisms to move past Game 3 loss to Angels

Originally Published: October 19, 2009
By Eric Neel | ESPN.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Nothing inspires clichés like failure. Nothing makes a man philosophical like mounting frustration.

Old saws, like well-worn pillows, provide a cushion, a dusty bit of comfort to soften the blow.

So it was that the New York Yankees, fresh off an 11-inning, 5-4 loss to the Angels on Monday evening in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, quoted chapter and verse from the Crash Davis guide to postgame interviews.

"Tomorrow's a new day," manager Joe Girardi said. "We'll be back."

"We know in a series there'll be games like this," third baseman Alex Rodriguez echoed. "We had opportunities; we should have capitalized on them. Tomorrow is another day."

"We just have to put it behind us and go get 'em tomorrow," first baseman Mark Teixeira said.

The "it" in question, the thing that made tomorrow such an appealing day on the calendar, was the fact that this was the second straight day in which Yankees bats went silent with runners on base.

New York came out cracking in Game 3. Solo home runs by Derek Jeter, Rodriguez and Johnny Damon staked the Yankees to a 3-0 lead early in the fifth inning (and Jorge Posada hit a fourth to tie the score at 4-4 in the eighth). But (as they had in Game 2 of the series), they went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and were 1-for-15 with runners on base, unable to extend their early lead or to capitalize on a key chance with runners on first and second in the eighth.

Their power (12 homers so far in the postseason) and late-inning dramatic victories in both the ALDS and the ALCS have made it seem as though the Yanks are cruising through the playoffs. In fact, press box chatter Monday after the Damon home run centered on the possibility that they would sweep both this series and the next one; they felt like a lock, looked like a juggernaut.

But when Vladimir Guerrero hit a two-run jack into the Angels' bullpen in the sixth inning, tying the score and bringing the Angel Stadium crowd and this series to life, all of a sudden, upon closer inspection, you could see cracks in the New York surface.

As a team, the Yankees are hitting just .243, with an on-base-percentage of .321 through six postseason games. And although Rodriguez is mashing and Posada has been strong, Teixeira (.120/.241/.240), Damon (.214/.241/.357) and Robinson Cano (.200/.259/.280) have struggled big-time.

"We had our chances," Damon said with a slight shake of the head Monday in the visiting locker room. "This is the postseason. You're not going to hit with runners in scoring position the way you did in the regular season. Pitchers aren't going to give in. … Hopefully, we can hit better with runners in scoring position [in Game 4]. But this is the playoffs. It's going to be tough all the time."

Teixeira (who has made up for his anemic hitting with dazzling defensive plays in the early games of the series) toed the same philosophical line in the quiet of the postgame New York clubhouse: "If you got a hit with men on base every time, it would be an easy game. Give credit to their pitchers."

[+] EnlargeJoe Girardi
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonJoe Girardi watched his team again struggle mightily with runners in scoring position, yet remained optimistic after the Yankees' Game 3 loss against the Angels.

We had our chances.

This is the playoffs.

It would be an easy game …

Give credit to their pitchers.

From Crash's lips to the assembled media's ears.

Or more likely, to the Yanks' own ears.

They were talking to themselves. You have to stay positive, level, ready for the next opportunity to step in the box in this game. Clichés are a kind of prayer you chant, an "om" that centers you and makes it possible to come back out and try again tomorrow. Give in to frustration and frustration mounts. Get too analytical and your mechanics in crunch time become mechanical, stiff, forced.

"We know what we have to do," Rodriguez said after Game 2. "We chased a lot of balls out of the zone."

Yankees hitters know they were just a hit or two from breaking Game 3 open and salting away the series. And all good hitters know they have to stay in that place of believing, knowing hits will come. Ballplayers rely on clichés to put the past away, to replace it with some different story about what happened and what might yet happen. They rely on clichés because sometimes you just can't explain why you fail.

"We came out to try to win the game [Monday], and we fell short," Damon said, with a little shrug of his shoulders.

"It's not like [guys] don't want to get hits," Posada said, with a wistful smile. "You just want to keep getting good at-bats."

The reason they're clichés is because they're true, because in the gap between Monday and Tuesday evening (Game 4 begins at 8:08 ET), they're all the Yankees have.

Well, clichés, a 2-1 series lead and CC Sabathia coming off a sterling four-hitter in Game 1, actually.

"It was disappointing [Monday], but I don't think anyone in here is frustrated," Damon said. "We know we're still up in the series and we know we have the big man going [Tuesday], and he's been pretty good for us."

Eric Neel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.

Eric Neel | email

Page 2 columnist
Eric Neel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.