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Week In Sports: Big Surprises In Baseball Playoffs


SISTER WINONA CARR: Life is a ball game being played each day. Life is a ball game...


Baseball playoffs moved into the league championships last night and the New York Yankees suffered a 6-4 loss. Yankees captain Derek Jeter suffered a broken ankle. NPR's Mike Pesca hasn't missed a minute of the postseason drama. He joins us now. Hey, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: There have been a lot of games. I think I'll cop to missing a couple of minutes but yeah, yeah.

MARTIN: A couple, a couple, only a couple. So, things getting a little tough for the Yankees all of the sudden.

PESCA: Yeah. Derek Jeter is out for the remainder of the postseason, which may be as few as three games, because Derek Jeter is out for the remainder of the postseason. He's, you know, he's just simply the best offensive shortstop in the American League - well, let's just say offensive everyday player. Rachel, I know you were going to raise the Ben Zobrist issue with me.

MARTIN: Of course I was.

PESCA: I know how you are with Zobrist. But he's a great player. The drop off from him to Nix, who will be his replacement, is going to be very big. Now, everyone's going to talk about the intangible qualities he brings and the leadership that he brings, and I don't think those things are untrue, but a couple of things. I think that leadership manifests itself in the regular season when you have this huge 162-game schedule and you have to be focused. In the postseason, these things are going try hard. And I just think the tangible much more outweighs the intangible but, of course, everyone's going to talk about the effect on the Yankees and the psyche and these things that are sort of in the realm of the mystical.

MARTIN: OK. So, speaking of leadership, I mean, New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi really did have a big decision last week in the series with the Orioles, kind of illustrated this struggle between heart and mind kind of thing.

PESCA: Right. And Girardi's decision not only touches on leadership but it touches on this idea of mysticism because what happened was he pinch-hit for Alex Rodriguez, very, you know, he's going to be in the Hall of Fame, one of the best hitters, so how do you pinch-hit for a hall of famer? The answer is he's just not been hitting good this year - or hitting well if you want to be grammatically correct.

MARTIN: I do, always.

PESCA: Raul Ibanez, the guy who pinch-hit for him, had more home runs against righties and about the same number of at-bats. Ibanez at that point had, like, four home runs in the last 45 at-bats and A-Rod had, you know, zero in his last 80. The weird thing - this is what I thought the weird thing was - not the decision. I thought it was a totally more than defensible; I think it was a decision he had to make. The way he talked about it afterwards was all couched in things like hunches and gut and...

MARTIN: And just not what he does. He's a by-the-book guy.

PESCA: Exactly. He's literally by-the-book. Joe Girardi has a binder in the dugout and he looks up statistics and he usually manages based on that. But I think the media doesn't like that and doesn't want those answers. They want the mystical angle. We have a clip of tape. Listen to what he reporter asks and how Joe Girardi answers.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How did you not let the possible consequences shape your decision-making in the ninth there?

JOE GIRARDI: I just felt I had to do what was in my gut, you know, what my stomach was telling me and what I thought was the best thing to do.

PESCA: And he cited his gut a couple times. It would have been easier, I think, and more honest to say look at the matchup, fellas. But no one's buying that. People want to hear there was just something in the ether. And it's not just Girardi, you know. Jim Leland, manager of the Tigers, said about his ace, Justin Verlander, before a game seven, he was determined. He had a complete game look in his eye. Justin Verlander had the most complete games in the American League. His eye? I'd worry about his arm. And there was an incident in the A's versus Tigers series where a Tigers pitcher kissed the ball and threw it to first. And they asked Jonny Gomes of the A's and he says he must not believe in baseball gods because baseball gods take care of that stuff. Well, not good enough, I guess. The A's lost.

MARTIN: It's the postseason. We want romance. We want mysticism.

PESCA: That's right. That's exactly what we want. I mean, I woke up to the Daily News today, and this is what one of the writers, Filip Bondy, wrote: There was magic in the bat. In the moment - this was about Ibanez, who hit a home run again last night - magic in the bat, in the moment and rational physics was no longer in play. Really? 'Cause when he hit the ball to right, did it turn to a gelatinous form then vaporize then reconstitute as - like, the reason he hit the home run was because rational physics was at play. Why can't we just celebrate that ball hit hard by bat, go far? I don't know.

MARTIN: I am celebrating that with you. NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks, as always, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.


CARR: (Singing) You know life is a ballgame, being played each day. You know life is a ballgame, each and everybody can play. Yes, you know Jesus is standing at the home plate, he's waiting for you there. Well, you know life is a ballgame but you've got to play it fair.

MARTIN: And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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