With the Yankees cruising to a Game Four victory over the Angels on Tuesday, both the ALCS and NLCS are potentially one game away from pennant-winning celebrations. The Phillies face the Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park tonight in hopes of closing out their second straight National League pennant with the Yankees hoping that Thursday night's Game Five against the Angels seals the same fate for the American League side.
If both Game Fives lead to pennant-clinching victories for the northeast teams, expect an NFL-like pre-Super Bowl media frenzy. After all, the World Series won't start until Oct. 28 this year, giving the media six full days of advance work. And if last season's World Series was any indication of what the weather can be like in late October in Philadelphia, add New York to that mix and expect a series that could go beyond the scheduled Game Seven date of Nov. 5. In other words, there could be a lot of down time between now and the end of the World Series. For now, expect to be faced with at least a week of Doppler Radars and copious amounts of Bud Selig bashing.
Now, both teams still have to get to the World Series first. It was just two years ago that a CC Sabathia-led Indians team was up 3-1 over Boston in the ALCS, only to lose in seven games. That Cleveland team also featured Phillies ace Cliff Lee, who wasn't even pitching well enough to get on the '07 playoff roster. So no matter how good a team is now, hot bats and timely pitching can always get to them, and momentum can always change in a series. There is still work to be done for both the Phillies and Yankees.
But watching these games, and reading the press clippings, it seems the Phillies and Yankees are just more locked in than their opponents. Here's Joe Girardi on Alex Rodriguez after Tuesday's win:
"He's a great player - I think it's that plain and simple. He's been a great player for a long time. He's in the zone right now; he's locked in. Every at-bat is a good at-bat. You see him not missing pitches. When he puts the swing on it, it's a good swing. When you're the type of player that Alex is, these are the type of things you can do. I mean, other players can be locked in, but they can't quite have the numbers that he's going to put up."
Here's Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins' take on things after his walk-off extra-base hit in Game Four of the NLCS:
"It's one of those situations where I wasn't afraid," Rollins said. "We believe in ourselves. We believe in our ability. We know there are 27 outs, and actually about the seventh inning is when we really start getting locked in, just saying that we have to put some at-bats together."
Even Brad Lidge has seemingly turned around his terrible regular season in the playoffs and says he feels, yes, more locked in:
"Once the postseason rolls around," Lidge says, "I think there's a different level of focus. And fortunately for me, it's worked out pretty good to see where I feel pretty locked in. A couple of things happened at the right time, and you've just got to try and run with it. You've got no other choice."
And let's not forget about the hottest player in the playoffs not named A-Rod – Ryan Howard, who is as locked in as anyone. So it's obvious the Yankees and Phillies are winning because they are more locked in than their opponents. Or could they simply be 'more loose'? Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. Take Cole Hamels in his Game Five presser on Tuesday:
"(Game Four) was something where we kept fighting. We know we have that sort of resiliency. And we're just more loose. I think when you're able to have the confidence in each other and not really put extra, added pressure, you're able to go out and compete the right way. That's something we were able to do."
A-Rod certainly feels looser this season:
"It feels really good. I certainly feel free and liberated. It's the happiest I've been in a long time. There's no profound answer, it's just that I'm happy and I'm on a great team.
"I think for me it started in spring training, going back to all the stuff I went through with the press conference and all that kind of stuff. Just, you know, not having expectations and being in a good place all year. I feel comfortable."
Phillies CF Shane Victorino doesn't think his team is more or less of anything – be it locked in or loose – being up 3-1. In fact, the All-Star doesn't think they change at all:
"We don't change. I think that's what people don't understand about this team. We don't change – whether it's game one or game five or game seven. I don't think we change. Our personalities don't change. Our attitudes don't change. Yeah, we want to get it done. This team – we focus and we just try to take the task that's ahead of us, I guess, more than anything. We know what's at risk and I think we're trying to go out there and finish it and trying to get it done. "
Derek Jeter, in his infinite say-something-by-saying-nothing wisdom, echoed Victorino's thoughts for his team:
"We keep the same mindset that we've had all year, and that's to try to win a game. We gotta come out here Thursday, we know how good they are, and we gotta come out here Thursday and try to win a game."
So are the teams loose? Or locked in? Or are they so locked in and focused they are loose? Or have they been the same loose teams all year that they are now locked in because of their opponent's inability to focus on the same level of looseness? Or stay at the same level of focus? What about loose focus? Can teams lose focus by getting too loose? Can they lock in their level of looseness as to not lose focus? When did this turn into a Dr. Seuss story?
This can get mighty confusing. In order to simplify, let's find out what Pedro Martinez, the Phillies potential NLCS Game Six starter, has to say:
"This team has proven over and over that this team is all about business. I think if we were a car, we would have been, right now, probably in trouble with the law. This team really speeds up and never lets down. I think we're more of a NASCAR type of team. "
NASCAR loose? That's a whole different kind of loose.
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.